Friday, December 05, 2008

Fire Safety?

As we have commented on before, the city is proposing to treat the fire department as if it were a fast food restaurant. As City Room reports: "The Fire Department will close a firehouse on Governors Island and eliminate night tours at four other firefighting units starting Jan. 17 to achieve an $8.9 million agency budget cut necessitated by New York City’s financial crisis, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta announced Wednesday."

Now we go all the way back on this issue to the Dinkins Administration; and the more things change, the more they stay the same. What Bloomberg is doing, much as Dinkins attempted to do, is a ruse-keeping the firehouse open while gutting the fire suppression capacity at the location: "At three other firehouses, the engine company will not be staffed during the evening shift, but the ladder company will be staffed at all times. Those three firehouses, and their companies, are:

42 South Street, Manhattan: Engine Company 4, Ladder Company 15

278 McClean Avenue, Staten Island: Engine Company 161, Ladder Company 81

392 Himrod Street, Brooklyn: Engine Company 271, Ladder Company 124."

The reality here, however, is that the engine company and the ladder company work in tandem; and if one is down, the existence of the other makes the impacted neighborhood unsafer-since an out of the area engine company will have to be brought in if there is a local fire. The fire commissioner spews the usual incoherance on this issue: "These are difficult times, and they require tough choices,” Mr. Scoppetta said. “However, despite the nighttime closings, we’re able to keep these firehouses open and maintain the services of these units for daytime operations.”

Not! An open firehouse isn't a fully functioning one; and it's impossible to predict where and when fire will occur-which is why you don't staff according to the business practices of a McDonald's; where customer patterns are stable, and the consequences of a mistake aren't deadly.

And any supposed analysis that went into this decision is immediately suspect-since so often these choices are either political or of the pin the tail on the donkey character. Which makes the following statement by the commissioner unintentionally humorous: "Before deciding on nighttime closings of these units, we extensively analyzed our existing resources throughout the city, with the input of our most experienced and knowledgeable fire chiefs,” Mr. Scoppetta said. “Our goal — first and foremost — is to minimize any impact these reductions could have on our ability to continue protecting and serving all New Yorkers. I believe we’ve accomplished that, especially given these trying fiscal times.”

Budget cuts should not be unilateral and across the board-public safety is the last thing that should be curtailed. It's up to the city council to rectify this mistake-before a short staffing leads to the death of a fire fighter and/or a citizen.