Friday, May 27, 2005

FDNY Redux

A few weeks ago we posted a commentary on the importance of fire protection to the safety and wellbeing of local neighborhoods. Business and residents alike depend on the swift response time we’ve come to expect from our dedicated firefighters. That is why we are so critical of the ad hoc nature of the mayor’s 2002 firehouse closings. The Department’s siting models are way out of date and, as a result, decisions to close or re-open houses often rest on political considerations more than public safety concerns.

So, it was no surprise when we read Meghan Clyne’s story on the mayor’s decision to staff the Rossville fire station (registration required) on Staten Island. For two years elected officials, led by Councilman James Oddo, fought to staff the facility, citing data showing that response times on the Island – “because of sprawl” – lagged behind the other four boroughs. Now, while Oddo is frankly puzzled but also pleased about the decision, Bloomberg’s mayoral opponent Tom Ognibene has no doubt that the move was based strictly on politics.
Pointing to a startling about-face over Staten Island's Rossville fire station, one of Mayor Bloomberg's Republican challengers, Thomas Ognibene, has accused the mayor of sacrificing public safety on the altar of campaign politics.


Mr. Ognibene called on the Fire Department to release the data that prompted Mr. Scoppetta to staff the Rossville station. He also said he doubted that a significant statistical difference in the span of three weeks prompted the reversal of a position the Bloomberg administration had clung to for two years.

"The point is that we all know it's a lie. We all know what it's done for," Mr. Ognibene said.

He also expressed concern that, since Mr. Bloomberg's decision was made of convenience, if there is a budget shortfall next year under a Bloomberg administration, the Rossville station would be among the first cuts, having served its temporary political purpose.
We see no reason to disagree with Tom.

All of this, of course, is linked to the 2002 decision to close six firehouses. According to the New York Times, responses to structural fires have risen 18 seconds compared to last year and while the contributing factors are varied we must agree with Stephen J. Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, who pins some of the blame on firehouse closings. The City Council should, along with all the mayoral candidates, demand the re-opening of the closed houses and the commissioning of a new comprehensive siting study. Speaker Miller should also follow the Alliance’s lead and introduce a bill mandating a full environmental review prior to the closing and any local firehouse.

The Sun article points to our continued emphasis on the dangers of Staten Island sprawl. Emergency vehicle response time is a crucial public safety issue. It is a key ingredient also in our conservative case against Wal-Mart on the Island (which we will elaborate on next week). Roads are at capacity and adding tens of thousands of more vehicle trips every week poses a grave danger to public safety and will, if the stores are built, compel tax payers to shell out millions of dollars more for new fire houses and police stations.