Amazon’s HQ2 plans for Long Island City are providing new fuel in the battle to reopen a shuttered FDNY engine company.
Lawmakers, fire union brass and civic leaders stood outside the former home of Engine 261 in the Dutch Kills neighborhood on Wednesday to say the growing section of western Queens needs increased fire services.
“With thousands of new jobs and traffic coming to the area what does that mean for firefighters?” asked Gerard Fitzgerald, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York. “The greater distance trucks have to travel in heavy traffic has already meant an increase in response time, putting lives at stake. Every second is critical.”
Engine 261 was closed down in 2003 as part of a larger citywide consolidation plan by the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Firefighters and trucks were sent to other engine companies. A ladder company remained in the building on 29th Street.
Long Island City has boomed since that time. Subsequent rezoning allowed residential towers to grow in an area once dominated by manufacturing and industrial facilities. Several speakers also recalled last week’s raging fire in nearby Sunnyside that destroyed several businesses and left both civilians and firefighters with injuries.
“It is never a good idea to close a firehouse,” said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. “Closing this engine company in 2003 was shortsighted. We have been fighting this fight a long time.”
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who organized the news conference, said she spoke with Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday, who pledged to look into the issue. She said part of the aggressive campaign to get the firehouse reopened includes a petition drive and legislative hearings.
“Keeping New Yorkers safe is the Mayor’s top priority,” said Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokeswoman for de Blasio. “We’re always evaluating resources, demands, and response times, and with an eye toward the future we will continue to do that in Long Island City.”
City Councilman Joseph Borelli, chair of the Committee on Fire and Emergency Management, said he plans to hold a hearing in January focused on Engine 261. He noted that city budget negotiations are set to start in the new year.
“I’m sure we can find a few million dollars to make sure the people of Long Island City, the people who are going to have to deal with Amazon and whatever comes with development … are adequately protected by the fire department,” he said.