By Bill Parry
Dutch Kills wants its FDNY engine company back.
In 2003, the Bloomberg administration argued that Engine Company 261, in the heart of the western Queens neighborhood on 29th Street, was underutilized and ordered the company closed, along with five other across the city as part of budget cuts. Now over a decade later, more than 12,000 new housing units have been built, with another 10,000 opening within the next year, bringing a growing population to Long Island City and Dutch Kills. Reopening of the firehouse has become necessary to fully protect the community, which includes two of the largest public housing developments, Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses, and cultural institutions like the Museum of the Moving Image and the Kaufman Astoria Studios.
A crowd of nearly 100, including elected officials, community leaders and union officials, stood in front of the fire station last Friday and demanded the return of Engine Company 261.
“We must do all we can to support our city’s Bravest and keep our growing community safe from the devastating power of fire,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. “Engine Company 261 gave the people of this neighborhood comfort for over a century, and we call for it to be reopened so that our city’s brave firefighters can once again provide life-saving help to the rapidly growing populations of Long Island City and Dutch Kills.”
Van Bramer said response times in the area had increased by nearly 35 seconds, which can mean life or death to those trapped in a burning home. While the firehouse remained open for FDNY Ladder Company116, which provides rigs and ladders at emergencies, Engine Company 261 provided the hoses and water to actually extinguish fires.
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale), the chair of the Council’s Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services, which oversees the FDNY, said she could not emphasize enough the importance of having Engine Company 261 return to Dutch Kills.
“I see how hard our firefighters work each and every day,” Crowley said. “They’re under more and more demands and the city is always asking them to do and more with less. Every second counts when you’re in an emergency situation, whether it’s your life or your property. You deserve fire protection, and we’re calling for that here in Long Island City and for the Dutch Kills community.”
Several of the speakers said the tragedy at London’s Grenfell Tower, where more than 80 died or are still missing two weeks later, should serve as a wake-up call.
“This neighborhood is among the fastest-growing in the city and needs more services,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “We shouldn’t wait until tragedies occur before providing the necessary resources to prevent them. I don’t want to be sitting here lamenting the loss of life because this firehouse was closed in the heart of this neighborhood.”
Dutch Kills Civic Association President George Stamatiades has been fighting for the return of Engine Company since it was taken away in 2003.
“They came here in the middle of the night to steal this 261 Engine from us, telling us that there wasn’t enough need for it,” Stamatiades said. “We invite them now to come back in the daylight and look around and bring our engine company back to Dutch Kills. Our community has grown to the point that fire protection is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr