2010-11-26 / Top Stories

Preliminary Budget Takes Aim At Firehouses

By Nicholas Briano

Politicians, fire union officials, firefighters and members of the community rally last July at the “Big House” to save Engine 328. Politicians, fire union officials, firefighters and members of the community rally last July at the “Big House” to save Engine 328. The proposed closing of 20 fire companies during overnight hours, as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s $1.6 billion in budget cuts announced last week, has left many to suspect the Far Rockaway “Big House” will once again make the list.

The “Big House” located at 1615 Central Avenue is home to Engine 328, Engine 264 and Ladder 134. Engine 328 has been on Bloomberg’s budgetary chopping block every year since 2008 when Engine 328 barely made the cut for proposed nighttime closures. The discussion came up again in 2009, and most recently this July when the city threatened to eliminate the engine completely.

The Mayor attempted to close up to 20 firehouses this past July but the City Council was able to negotiate that number down to just four temporary nighttime closures, one each in Manhattan, Bronx, Staten Island and Ridgewood, Queens. Engine 328 was spared, but locals believe it will continue to appear on the list of closures whenever the city announces plans to do so. The list of fire companies to close at night has not been released.

“Well, every time the Mayor talks about closing firehouses, the Big House seems to make the list. But thank goodness it has always been removed. It’s something we always have to watch for,” Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer said this week.

Rockaway’s isolation from other fire companies in the event reinforcements are needed has always been discussed in its defense. Pheffer says it’s all about time.

“It takes a long time to respond here from other fire departments,” she said.

If Engine 328 makes the list, we will follow up with letters talking about our isolation and response times. No matter what, we will do whatever is necessary to prevent any cuts within our fire department.”

Firefighters told The Wave in June that other areas of the city benefit from receiving additional help in all directions. However, there’s no other direction for help to come from considering the peninsula borders Nassau County and is bordered on three sides by Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Politicians, Community Board 14 and firefighters all agree that with the community growing at the current pace, closing Engine 328 will place a future burden on the remaining fire houses.

In fact, the peninsula currently operates with six engines and three ladder companies, when the typical fire, according to FDNY guidelines, requires the response of at least four engines. The closest firehouse outside of the Rockaway peninsula is in Rosedale which is more than five miles away from certain points in Rockaway. A multi-alarm fire could take that fire company up to 15 minutes to respond, assuming they’re available to help.

New York City laws require community board notification at least 45 days before any fire houses are expected to close or reduce hours. Councilman James Sanders, who led a rally to save Engine 328 in July, could not be reached for comment.

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