In spite of the bitter cold, on December 19, concerned citizens gathered along with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Jake Lemonda of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA), Gerard Fitzgerald of the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA), Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and other elected officials and community groups to call for the reinstatement of FDNY Engine Company 261 to support the growing population of Long Island City. The rally was held at the FDNY Ladder Company 116 firehouse, just around the corner from the offices of The National Herald.
Until 2003, FDNY Engine Company 261 occupied the same firehouse as FDNY Ladder Company 116, but it was closed as part of a Bloomberg era cost-cutting measure. With the current building boom and population increase in Long Island City, the Congresswoman has written a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, and has joined with members of the FDNY and the community to call for the reinstatement of FDNY Engine Company 261 at its former location.
Rep. Maloney noted that the Engine 261”should never have been removed in the first place” in this fastest growing area of not only New York City, but the entire country. She added that the recent Sunnyside fire is a “wake up call” about the safety of Northwestern Queens.
“We need to return Fire Engine 261 to what is already the fastest growing community in the nation” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. 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 5 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.”
She continued, “A very bad decision was made in 2003, Mayor Bloomberg made a decision to close the Engine, to remove it, and to dispatch 22 firefighters to other areas in the city but this is one of the most vibrant areas not only in New York City, but the whole country, with a dense population, and just recently we had a massive fire that injured many firefighters and many citizens and we know that in a fire seconds matter and they can save lives.”
“The Engine Company has the hoses that put out the fires, but they left us only with a Ladder Company which is only search and rescue and ventilation, they don’t have the hoses, so they have to bring them in from other fire departments, that’s half a mile away and that’s just unsustainable,” Rep. Maloney pointed out, adding that “we have more than 50,000 schoolchildren in the area, LaGuardia Community College, CUNY Law School, and Roosevelt Island. This firehouse is also charged with protecting Roosevelt Island, another densely populated area and even more so now with Cornell Tech. So we need this Engine back and we need it back fast.”
She noted that it was UFA President Fitzgerald’s letter in Crain’s magazine that first alerted her to the seriousness of the situation, especially with the continuing growth of the community and more and more residential high rise buildings going up every day in the area.
Among those present, President of Dutch Kills Civic Association George Stamatiades said, “The first time they wanted to close this firehouse under the leadership of Bob Wilson, our president, we were able to put a stop it to it and Bob was awarded an honorary lifetime fire helmet for that work, we want another helmet for Dutch Kills.”
Also present were New York City Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Fire and Emergency Management Joseph C. Borelli, Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Ben Kallos, President of Hunter’s Point Civic Association Brent O’Leary, Representatives from LIC Coalition, and Representatives from the Long Island City Partnership.
“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.
“Over the last 5 to 7 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.”