Firehouse Is On The Road Again
By Howard Schwach and Gary G. Toms
A City Council subcommittee voted on Tuesday to approve a controversial plan that would move the Arverne firehouse from its present site at Beach 59 Street to a new site on Beach 48 Street.
The unanimous vote in the subcommittee virtually assured that the full Land Use Committee would ratify the plan at a meeting to be held early next week.
A number of local civic activists, firefighters and union officials spoke against the plan, arguing that moving the firehouse ten blocks east and two blocks north would significantly increase response time for the house's ladder truck to the Ocean Village complex and to the new homes planned for the Arverne By the Sea project.
Fire union officials passed out copies of The Wave, detailing the story about the young child that recently died in a tragic fire The union maintains that moving the firehouse would cause a serious lapse in response time of a ladder truck in that area.
Fire officials, however, argued that 85 percent of fires in Rockaway are in the eastern end of the peninsula and the new location would cut down on the response time to that area.
"The present fire house and the present EMS facilities in the area are both dilapidated and need replacement," said Salvatore Cassano, Chief of Operations for the FDNY. "Relocating them both to a new facility would save money and substantially improve working conditions."
While he agreed that the move would increase response time "minimally" for the western end of the peninsula, he argued that the majority of fires were in the "more densely populated" eastern end.
City Councilperson Joe Addabbo fought hard and long to stop the move. He was seen arguing with subcommittee members even after the vote, when the meeting had officially ended.
"I am not going to consider this over until the first shovel is in the ground," Addabbo told The Wave after the hearing. "This is a public safety issue as well as a land use issue, and the council's Public Safety Committee may look at the decision."
"This may have been a predetermined vote," Addabbo added. "Everybody agreed that this would add to the response time for the ladder company coming to high rise fires on the west end, but they voted to move the firehouse anyway."
City Councilperson James Sanders spoke at the hearing, but took a more neutral position on the plan. Sanders left the hearing prior to the vote.
"I am more neutral than Addabbo," Sanders admitted to The Wave. "I want to see the benefit of keeping the firehouse in place to the Rockaway community."
"The city made some excellent points in defending the decision to move it to Beach 84 Street. As a resident of the disputed area, this is a life and death issue for me and I want all the facts before I make a decision," the Councilmember added.
Sanders and other councilmembers questioned whether opponents of the plan simply objected to sharing the facility with EMS.
The union representing EMS workers, however, also opposes the move.
Councilmember Charles Barron and others suggested at the hearing that there was a racial component to the opposition disguised as concerns for public safety.
Sanders said that he does not agree with Barron, but that the fire department does have issues of race when dealing with recruiting and promoting firefighters.
Steve Cooper, the president of the Frank Avenue Civic Association and a member of Community Board 14, told The Wave that he believed the opponents of the plan were beat before they walked into the hearing.
"The hearing was stacked against us," he said. "When the fire department officials spoke, all of the subcommittee members were there. When Addabbo spoke, many of them left. When the public spoke, only two members were left to listen to us."
"Al Moore, the chair for CB 14's land use committee even opposed to the plan," Cooper added. "There was nobody left to listen to his arguments."
The combined Fire-EMS station planned for 303 Beach 49 Street will cost $9.2 million. It is expected that construction will begin shortly after the full City Council votes on the proposal sometime in the near future.