2008-11-21 / Top Stories

F.R.'s Engine 328 Victim Of City Budget Cuts?

Night Shift Could Be On Chopping Block
By Miriam Rosenberg

Firefighters of the Big House fire company, Ladder 134 and Engine 264 return from a call. It is possible they will be minus Engine 328 during the nighttime shift if the city shuts it down in the evening to save money. Photo by Miriam Rosenberg Firefighters of the Big House fire company, Ladder 134 and Engine 264 return from a call. It is possible they will be minus Engine 328 during the nighttime shift if the city shuts it down in the evening to save money. Photo by Miriam Rosenberg As the city struggles to make cuts in its annual budget during these tough economic times, Engine 328, located in Far Rockaway's Big House firehouse, may be one of the victims of the cuts, The Wave learned late last week.

In a letter dated November 13, the members of Engine 328 alerted Jonathan Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14, of a possible change that would shut the fire company down during the 15-hour night shift which runs from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m.

In part, the letter states, "We have been informed the city may have plans to close Engine 328 for night tours … the majority of fires and fatalities occur at night. Not having Engine 328 in service would obviously be dangerous for the Far Rockaway community."

Those who work at Engine 328, which is located at 16-19 Central Avenue and covers the area from the Nassau border to Beach 58 Street, also pointed out that the standing down of the company during the evening hours would leave the west end of Rockaway unprotected should an emergency occur and fire companies there need extra help.

Gaska echoed the concerns of the firefighters when the newspaper spoke with him on Monday.

"Rockaway is a unique location," said Gaska. "It is not near anyone else to cover quickly from other neighborhoods. But the closest adjacent firehouse is in Nassau County."

Gaska explained that, because of the windy environments in Rockaway, a fire could "spread quickly and by the time other companies respond, it could be too late and lives could be lost."

In a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who announced earlier this month the city was to cut $1.5 billion from all city agencies to close budget gaps, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer called shutting down Engine 328 at night an "ill-conceived plan that may potentially put thousands of lives at risk." She implored the mayor to cancel any possible plans to close the engine company during the night shift.

"The firehouse at 16-19 Central Avenue cannot rely on their closest neighbor to the east, Nassau County, to respond to fires and emergencies," wrote Pheffer. "Unfortunately, they must rely on a firehouse five miles away in Rosedale, Queens. This distance could potentially jeopardize the safety and well being of all residents of Rockaway."

Pheffer added that the budget should not be balanced by cutting emergency services and fire protection in her community.

According to the letter from the firefighters of Engine 328, "a typical fire requires a minimum response of four engines and three ladder companies. The entire 15-mile Rockaway Peninsula has seven engine and three truck companies."

There are several examples of nighttime fires that have taken place in the Far Rockaway community over the years.

The most prominent, the Neilson Street fire, occurred on a windy, ice cold night on February 3, 2007. It required more than 50 units and 250 firefighters. It was first called in at 1:29 a.m. and was not under control until 4:10 a.m. Six civilians and 33 firefighters were treated for minor injuries and many were left homeless.

On March 21, 2005, a total of 25 units and 110 firefighters responded to a call at a residence on Beach 15 Street for a fire that was first reported at 11:24 p.m. On April 16, 2007, the Do Drop Inn, a club located on Gateway Boulevard in Far Rockaway, burned to the ground during a three-alarm blaze which required 150 firefighters and took more than three hours to get under control after the first call was received at 7:32 p.m.

A representative for the FDNY had no comment on Tuesday except to say that he had not heard anything about closing Engine 328 during nighttime shifts.

Also on Tuesday, a representative for the mayor's office said, "There's nothing etched in stone. There's no plan yet."

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