Politicians, civic leaders and firefighters rallied recently in Queens to prevent 20 fire companies from going up in smoke.
Dozens gathered on Tuesday, May 29 outside Engine 294 in Richmond Hill, one the 20 fire companies that may close due to budget cuts, including students from nearby P.S. 273.
The children, brandishing signs, led the crowd in chants of, “Save our firehouse and you save me.”
This is the fourth consecutive year lack of funding has threatened to close firehouses. Twenty also faced the chopping block last year, but were saved in the final budget.
“We need to make sure that when a budget is passed in New York City, it is a budget that keeps our residents safe,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Council’s Fire and Criminal Services Committee.
No official list has been released of the fire companies that may close, but last year’s list included four in Queens: Engine 294, Engine 328 in Rockaway, Ladder 128 in Sunnyside and in Engine 306 in Bayside.
“Hopefully, no companies close,” said an FDNY spokesperson. “Right now, it looks like it will go that way.”
The city’s budget will be finalized by the end of June.
If Engine 294 is eliminated, it would be the third time in its history it has closed.
The first closing lasted six years – from 1975 to 1981 – and the most recent was in 1991.
Two men were killed in a fire shortly after the closing in 1991.
“If [Engine 294] was here that day, those two men may still be alive,” Crowley said.
Though Engine 294 directly serves Richmond Hill and the surrounding communities of Woodhaven and Ozone Park, closing any companies affects every neighborhood in the city, said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.
“If they close 20 fire companies it will affect every neighborhood in the city of New York, not just the ones they close them in, every neighborhood,” Cassidy said.
“If you take Engine 294 out of the equation, response times will rise for medical emergencies and fires.”
Engine companies also provide emergency medical attention, in addition to responding to fires.
“We’re playing with fire, and what happens when we play with fire. We get burned,” said Senator Joe Addabbo. “This is not a game we should be playing. We shouldn’t be playing with fire.”
New York City is ranked last in the number of firehouses per capita, said Eddie Boles of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
“This is our life we’re talking about,” said Maria Thomson, president of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District. “This is life and death.”