Critics point to peril of selling shut firehouses





In a last-ditch effort to stop the city from selling shuttered firehouses, a collection of critics yesterday linked a rise in FDNY response times to the closings - and warned that they could get worse.


Community activists, politicians, and the fire unions pleaded with Mayor Bloomberg to reopen the firehouses or at least allow the next occupant of City Hall to decide their fate.


"It was insanity to close the firehouses and it's insanity to sell them," said Pete Gorman, head of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. "In this day and age, particularly in growing neighborhoods, we need more fire protection, not less."


The advocates pointed to an increase in response times in the areas served by three firehouses that closed in May 2003: Engine 36 in Harlem, Engine 204 in Cobble Hill, and Engine 212, the so-called "People's Firehouse," in Williamsburg.


In Williamsburg and neighboring Greenpoint, the average response time to a structural fire rose 49 seconds between the three-year period that ended in May 2003 and the 34-month period that ended in March 2006. During that same stretch, response times rose 28 seconds in Cobble Hill and 30 seconds in Harlem.


However, the FDNY, which labeled the three houses as "surplus property" and recently handed them off to the city, denied that the closings were making the areas less safe.


"Response times are always a concern, and we closely monitor them," said Frank Gribbon, the FDNY's top spokesman, who noted that fire-related deaths have decreased. "The higher response times in these areas are not wholly attributable to the closures."


FDNY sources acknowledged that response times in those areas have gone up, but insisted that they are mostly in line with citywide increases.


"The Fire Department moves its resources to where the people live," Bloomberg said. "Firehouses that we no longer need are city property - the city needs the money and we'll sell those off."


With Michael Saul

Originally published on October 19, 2006


All contents 2006 Daily News, L.P.