2011-05-27 / Top Stories

Big House Speaks Out

By Nicholas Briano

The city is once again looking to close Engine 328. The city is once again looking to close Engine 328. Members of the Far Rockaway “Big House” firehouse spoke out this week about the latest threat by the city to shutter Engine 328, one of 20 fire companies Mayor Bloomberg would like to close as part of the proposed fiscal year 2012 budget.

Engine 328 is part of the Far Rockaway “Big House,” located at 16-19 Central Avenue. The city has threatened to close the company every year since 2008 as part of proposed budget cuts. The multi-engine firehouse is home to Engine 328, Engine 264 and Ladder 134. The Bloomberg administration says the list is preliminary and it’s too early to tell which firehouses, if any, will close. The budget must still be negotiated by the Council which will negotiate the firehouses along with several other cuts across the board. The last time the mayor tried to cut Engine 328, just last November, he proposed to close it during overnight hours. However, during the final hours of City Council negotiations with the mayor, the fire company was saved from the proposed cuts.

Firefighters from the “Big House” spoke out in anger and frustration this week about the continual threat to their firehouse. All three fire companies, they feel, are critical to the safety of the peninsula and its residents.

“The closest firehouse to 16-19 Central Avenue is over a mile and a half away. The next one is over three miles away. If Engine 328 is disbanded, this could be devastating to the life and property of Far Rockaway,” firefighters wrote in a letter this week to The Wave.

The fire companies do not just respond to fires, they say, but also auto accidents, electrical emergencies, gas leaks and 911 medical emergencies. Although the jurisdiction of the “Big House” stretches from the Nassau County border to Beach 72 Street, often the response is beyond that, especially in multi-alarm fires.

“The average fire requires a minimum response of four engines and three ladder companies,” firefighters say. “The Rockaway Peninsula, stretching 15 miles, only has six engines and three truck companies. [Rockaway] buildings are prone to dangerous wind driven fires, which to control would require additional engine and ladder companies.”

Both Rockaway City Council members are against the cuts as well.

“The Mayor’s plan to close Engine 328 and other fire companies around the city is downright dangerous. Response times will go up and lives will be put at risk,” Councilmember Eric Ulrich said this week. “Our communities desperately need adequate fire protection and emergency services, and we simply cannot balance the budget by putting people in harm’s way. Mark my words – budget cuts like these can be deadly and I will do everything in my power to fight them.”

Councilmember James Sanders Jr., whose district encompasses the “Big House,” was just as opposed.

“I can only express my frustration and outrage at the ongoing disregard for the safety and welfare of my community,” Sanders said. “This is the second time in two years that the City has decided that it would try to balance its budget on the backs of my constituents. Fires will happen, the system will get overwhelmed, and lives will be lost. Yet the response of the City seems to be, ‘The fiscal bottom line is more important.’ While I applaud the effort to be fiscally responsible, my first and highest priority is the welfare of our people.”

Bloomberg’s proposed plan to cut Engine 328 along with 19 other companies across the city would save approximately $55 million for the fiscal year 2012 budget. Other proposed closures in Queens include one fire company each in Richmond Hill, Sunnyside and Bayside.

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