By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney joined other lawmakers and Long Island City residents Dec. 18 for a press conference demanding the reinstatement of Engine Company 261 — a Fire Department unit disbanded during the Bloomberg administration.
Maloney held the conference outside the headquarters of Ladder Company 116. In 2003, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg closed the fire engine company and replaced it with its current ladder company during a citywide thinning of firehouses amid budget cuts. Since then, the cramped neighborhood — now the most densely populated area in the country — must depend on a firehouse half a mile.
This is because ladder companies and engine companies have two different purposes. The job of an engine company is to suppress fires with hoses while ladder companies are utilized more for search and rescue. During an emergency, FDNY ladder company 116 must wait to get hoses from neighboring firehouses.
“Our fire engine should never have been moved in the first place,” said Maloney.
On Dec. 17, Maloney said that sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and met with him to discuss restoring Engine 261 to its full capacity. She referred to the Bloomberg era cut as “a very bad decision.”
“I think that the fire that we had recently was a wake up call,” said Maloney, referring to last week’s five-alarm inferno on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside. “We know in a fire, seconds matter and they can save lives.”
According to a 2015 community health profile, Astoria and Long Island City are home to about 201,400 people. Engine 261 was the designated firehouse for Long Island City and Roosevelt Island, which according to 2010 U.S Census data, is home to roughly 11,661 people. The Roosevelt Island Bridge — the only vehicular access point to the island — connects with Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City.
With the impeding arrival of Amazon HQ2 and the resulting influx of residents, Maloney and others said the need for additional firehouse and fire workers will only increase.
“It was Engine 261 that came when my mom stopped breathing,” said longtime Long Island City resident Steve Morena. According to Morena, it was the firehouse’s quick response time that saved his mother’s life 25 years ago.
Not only do engine companies save lives in fires, but they are also usually first on the scene when an ambulance is called. The members are trained to perform life-saving techniques, and have equipment to stabilize a patient until EMS units arrive.
Without another engine unit in Long Island City, Morena fears that other families may not be so lucky in the event of an emergency.
A City Council public hearing regarding the potential reinstatement of Engine 261 is expected to take place in January 2019.
The Mayor’s office has yet to respond to a request for comment.