2010-06-18 / Columnists

East End Matters...

Engine 328: Lives v. Budget Cuts – Is There Really A Question?
Commentary By Miriam Rosenberg

It was threatened in 2008. Then again in 2009. Once again Engine 328, located at the Big House on Central Avenue in Far Rockaway, is facing the budget axe.

As The Wave reported last week, rumors are swirling that the engine company is among those that will be cut as part of a plan to balance the city’s budget. This would not only be a foolish move by the city, but a potentially deadly one.

Last week’s news came from Engine 328’s firefighters. According to last week’s article they have been told to prepare to shut down operations of the company by summer’s end. This is not the first time that they were the first to alert the community about a possible closure.

In a 2008 letter to Jonathan Gaska, the district manager of Community Board 14, firefighters wrote, in part, that, “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.”

Cases in point include: The most prominent fire in recent memory on the peninsula – the Neilson Street fire. The six-story apartment house 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. As a result of the blaze six civilians and 33 firefighters were treated for minor injuries and everyone who lived in that building lost his or her home 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.

Just last week one of New York City’s Bravest who works at the Big House told The Wave, “We are such an isolated community. In most places fire apparatus come from all directions to help out. There are no other directions in Far Rockaway, because we are surrounded by the bay, the ocean and Nassau County.”

This all paints a grim picture of what could happen if the Big House, which is also home to Ladder Company 134 and Engine Company 264, loses Engine Company 328.

Although Chief McGrath of Battalion 47 told Community Board 14 recently that fire companies in Rockaway are safe from closure, this community cannot let its guard down until we know for certain the fate of Engine 328.

Here are just some suggestions. Stop planting the trees. Let union leaders accept the hard times we are in and go along with freezing wages. Besides, what makes more sense – standing your ground, getting your union members that raise, and seeing other members get laid off; or making sure that all your members have jobs. Stop spending the money for beautification projects – such as the one that was just completed on Beach 20 Street and Seagirt Boulevard and another on Beach 19 Street. Those funds should be put to more rational uses. And stop fixing streets that don’t need repairs while the ones that do require fixing are left to get worse.

Going back to the Neilson Street fire, the closest backup – Battalion 54 – was in Hollis. As we reported last week, “Battalion 54 had to travel in a circuitous course through Nassau County and eventually back into Far Rockaway, more than nine miles from their firehouse in Hollis.”

That’s not comforting when you and your family are watching your home go up in flames and thinking about what could have been if the proper equipment were readily available. What’s worse, if those extra firefighters – who would have been there before any cuts were made – could have saved lives.

We must fight every step of the way to make sure that Engine 328 stays put at the Big House in Far Rockaway. Not just because we want it there, but because we need it there.

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