By Kelsey Durham

Following a harsh winter that pounded New York City with an uncharacteristic amount of snow, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has introduced legislation that would transfer the burden of shoveling out fire hydrants from homeowners to the city Sanitation Department.

Avella joined homeowners and civic leaders in Bellerose last week to announce a bill that would amend the city’s administrative code by making it the responsibility of DSNY to remove snow and ice buildup surrounding fire hydrants citywide.

Current city regulations require property owners to make sure any hydrants in front of their homes are properly cleared and accessible after snowstorms.

But the senator said not every property owner is able to shovel out a fire hydrant near his or her house, which poses a serious safety threat if the hydrant were needed in the event of a fire. The extra few minutes it could take for the Fire Department to clear the snow could cost someone their life, he warned.

“We had an unusually harsh winter and I think it’s an indication of times to come,” said Avella. “There are seniors who worry about who will take care of it when there’s 3 or 4 feet of snow in front of their house. Imagine a senior citizen who is physically not able and can’t afford to hire someone to shovel and you can see how much of a fear this can become if there is ever a fire on their block.”

Jerry Wind, president of the Bellerose Hillside Civic Association and owner of the home where Avella announced his bill, said he felt the strain of the severe weather this winter as he struggled to maintain the hydrant outside his house.

After having a major heart operation a few years ago, he said his wife often worried about him outside laboring through heavy snow to make sure the hydrant was clear.

“I maintained this hydrant this winter because it was important, so I did it,” he said. “But there are plenty of elderly people who can’t even get out their front doors. I think this bill is a great idea.”

Avella said there would be an added cost and labor aspect if the city were to become responsible for clearing snow from fire hydrants, but said these issues could be worked out before the start of next winter.

Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniform Sanitation Men’s Association, said he is in support of the bill and would be willing to come up with a compromise that would make it as easy as possible for sanitation workers to complete the additional task while already out on their plow routes.

“Obviously, there’s a cost involved, but it’s minimal, whatever it may be, when evaluated next to the huge safety factor of being able to use the hydrant,” Avella said. “You can’t put a price on safety.”

Although the bill was just recently introduced, Avella said he hopes it will gain enough support to pass by the end of the current legislative session in June. The senator said he believes that will give the city enough time to work out the logistics and be prepared for next winter.

“I think this is a common-sense situation,” he said. “It’s common-sense for the city to make sure that residential blocks are protected in case of a fire.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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