On December 19, Congress Member Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12) joined Jake Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, Gerard Fitzgerald, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, local elected officials and community leaders in a rally to call for the reinstatement of FDNY Engine Company 261. Congress Member Maloney has also written a letter to Mayor de Blasio to call for the reinstatement of FDNY Engine Company 261 at its former location, 37-20 29th St., LIC.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg closed Engine 261 due to budget cuts in 2003. It had served the neighborhood for over a century. Ladder Company 116 continues to use the station where Engine Company 261 had been co-located so it would take very little investment to return Engine Company 261 to its original location. At present, Ladder Company 116 does not have the resources to adequately respond to fires, while increasing population growth and traffic threatens to place an even larger strain on this firehouse. Restoring Engine Company 261 is crucial to ensuring that Long Island City has the equipment and personnel necessary to respond to fires in this increasingly dense community.
Engine companies provide water and hoses to fight fires. Ladder companies are responsible for search and rescue and ventilation (making holes in roofs and windows), but lack the equipment to put out a fire. Without an engine company, Ladder Company 116 lacks the equipment and personnel to fight fires adequately and relies on engine companies from a full half-mile away to put out fires. FDNY has broken its run record for five consecutive years and unit availability is at an all-time low.
According to FDNY statistics, in 2017, Queens had the worst response times in the city – 4 minutes and 36 seconds to respond to a structural fire. Brooklyn, with the best response time was nearly a minute faster at 3 minutes and 43 seconds. Fires spread so rapidly that seconds can make the difference between life and death. 2017 was a particularly deadly year, with fire deaths up 50% over the previous year.
Those gathered all affirmed that the current building boom and population increase in Long Island City, in addition to the expected arrival of Amazon bringing thousands of employees and crop of ancillary vendors to the area, as well as the new Cornell Tech and building on Roosevelt Island, makes it abundantly clear that Engine Company 261 must be reopened for the safety of the community.
“We need to return Fire Engine 261 to what is already the fastest growing community in the nation,” said Congress Member Maloney. “I am proud to stand with Jake Lemonda of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association and Gerard Fitzgerald of the Uniformed
Firefighters Association, as well as the wonderful elected officials that are committed to the safety and protection of Long Island City residents. Firefighters have been asked to do more and more with fewer resources, and as the disastrous five-alarm fire in Sunnyside shows us, we cannot continue to put lives at risk. We must have an adequate number of personnel and equipment to serve this growing community – we need Fire Engine 261.”
“The unions warned then-Mayor Bloomberg that closing firehouses was shortsighted and a danger to our citizens. Today we stand in the fastest-growing community in NYC, both residential and commercial populations are exploding! The danger is that there is not adequate fire protection for this community and its citizens. Every community deserves adequate fire protection, and Engine 261 should be reopened immediately,” said Jake Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
“Since Engine 261 closed, Long Island City has added thousands of new residents to Queens. Across the city, our firefighters are already doing more now with fewer resources than ever, and with Amazon coming into the neighborhood, there is still no plan for a firehouse to serve this rapidly growing community,” said Gerard Fitzgerald, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. “We’re proud to stand today with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney to tell New York’s elected officials: Don’t overlook the public safety needs of Queens residents. Reopening Engine 261 is crucial to keeping Queens safe.”
“It’s long past time for Mayor de Blasio to reverse Mayor Bloomberg’s ill-advised decision to close Engine Company 261 in Dutch Kills. Thousands of people have moved to Western Queens in the last decade and our brave firefighters are strained to capacity. Green-lighting the rapid development of our Long Island City community without providing the necessary infrastructure to sustain population growth is a threat to public safety. Engine Company 261 must be reinstated to protect our growing community and give it back the sense of comfort that comes with having our city’s Bravest right next door,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.
“The Long Island City community needs more fire protection with the growing number of high-rise apartments and the continued presence of industry side by side with highrise hotels and condos,” said Assembly Member Catherine Nolan. “Engine Company 261 must be reopened now to increase the safety and security of the growing population in our community.”
“I join the community, the firefighters, my colleagues and fellow electeds, who are calling upon Mayor de Blasio to reopen FDNY Engine Company 261. At the same time that we are PAYING corporations like Amazon to come to Long Island City, it seems only reasonable that taxpayer-supported resources that provide essential services, like the FDNY, be open and available to all citizens,” said Assembly Member Rebecca A. Seawright.
“New York City has a poor track record of planning for major developments over the last 20 years, which has resulted in historically low ratios of FDNY and EMS resources per capita. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes made during the Bloomberg years, when hundreds of thousands of people were lured into formerly industrial communities which had inadequate public infrastructure. FDNY companies and EMS stations provide the resources and response times necessary to ensure the well-being of residents and visitors. With this new Amazon campus we will see an influx of tens of thousands of employees, plus exponentially greater numbers of vendors and visitors, the volume of which will rival a city the size of Syracuse, NY. It’s imperative that Engine 261 in Long Island City be reactivated in order to support the explosive growth in population and commercial activity in the community,” said NYC Council Member Joe Borelli, chair of the NYC Council’s Committee on Fire & Emergency Management.
“Over the last five to seven years Long Island City and the communities around it have seen very rapid growth in population and an explosion in construction. New York City must respond to this reality and reinstate Engine Company 261 as soon as possible,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “The safety of New Yorkers in Queens should not fall victim to an old cost-cutting measure we all knew was a bad idea when it was implemented. I fully support the men and women of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association and the Uniformed Firefighters Association demanding that Engine Company 261 is reinstated. Common sense and our city’s obligation to put safety first must prevail here. Thank you to Congress Member Maloney for calling attention to this issue and working to get it solved.”
FDNY Engine Company 261 was housed with FDNY Ladder Company 116 until 2003, but was closed as a Bloomberg era cost-cutting measure. The 22 members of Engine Company 261 were transferred to other units.
Engine Company 261 served Roosevelt Island as well, which has seen a population explosion of its own with the construction of Cornell Tech and several new apartment buildings.
Long Island City is the fastest growing community in the nation. The development of projects and sites along the waterfront will bring a large influx of workers and residents to the area, which requires upgrades to infrastructure and fire safety measures.