Long Island City officials and residents are arguing that a Fire Department unit which previously served the area until it was closed in 2003 should be reopened.
Engine Company 261, along with five other FDNY units, was shuttered in May 2003 under the Bloomberg administration as a cost-cutting measure. At the time, Bloomberg argued that the closings would save the city $6 million in overtime expenses.
But with the Long Island City population exploding in recent years, many are arguing that the company is needed to ensure rapid response times.
Gerard Fitzgerald, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York, joined members of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association and elected officials including Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and state Senator Michael Gianaris in front of the former Engine 261 firehouse at 37-20 29th St. on June 23 to demand that the FDNY reopen it.
“We must do all we can to support our city’s bravest and keep our growing community safe from the devastating power of a fire,” Van Bramer said in a statement. “Engine Company 261 gave the people of this neighborhood comfort for over a century, and today 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 population in Long Island City and Dutch Kills.”
The company officially opened on June 12, 1894, as Engine 3 of the Long Island City Fire Department. In January 1913, it was reorganized as Engine Company 261. On May 25, 2003, it was shut down, and 22 fire personnel were transferred to other companies around the city.
In July 2003, a Brooklyn judge found that closing the engine company was illegal because residents of Roosevelt Island, which the company also serves, were not adequately notified. But the judge stopped short of ordering the firehouse to be reopened.
“Firehouses are vital to our communities,” Fitzgerald said. “When our neighborhoods grow and develop, fire protection and the amount of first responders in the area should also increase. Engine Company 261 should be re-opened today as it provides a much-needed level of safety and protection to a booming population in Long Island City.”
George Stamatiades, the president of the Dutch Kills Civic Association argued that Long Island City “has grown to the point that fire protection is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”
In 2003, firefighters Steven Cycan and Chris Marino argued that shutting down Engine Company 261 would slow down response times. Ladder companies and engine companies are usually housed together for efficiency.
A ladder company is in charge of search-and-rescue and ventilation, which means that firefighters specialize in making holes in roofs and windows to let smoke escape from a burning building.
The engine company hoses down the building and extinguishes the flames. Currently, Ladder Company 116 is housed at the 29th Street location and must rely on engine companies from surrounding neighborhoods to help respond to fires.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan wrote a letter to the FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro asking him to consider reopening Engine Company 261. She first made that request in a letter addressed to the FDNY on May 4, 2016. The agency told her that they were conducting an analysis to see what areas in the city might need additional services due to “high population growth.” Nolan said she has not seen the results of that analysis.
“As the Long Island City community continues to grow and expand, our communities need more fire protection with the growing number of high-rise apartments and the continued presence of industry side by side with high-rise hotels and condos,” she said. “Re-opening Engine Company 261 would be a step in the right direction in providing additional services which would increase the safety and security of the growing population in our community.”
A spokesperson for the FDNY said the department recognizes that Long Island City is a “burgeoning community.”
“The Fire Department is dedicated to maintaining the most efficient network of fire mitigation resources, and we continue to adapt our locations with the changing landscape and population of New York City,” the spokesperson said.