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City Island blaze destroys 2-story building

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Fire tore through a small apartment building on City Island in the early morning hours of Tuesday, January 6, illustrating the need for Mayor Bloomberg to reconsider plans to close Ladder Company 53 at night, residents and elected officials said.

The fire, which engulfed the entire second floor of the building listed in the FDNY log as 240 City Island Avenue, required use of the ladder company to remove occupants from seven units who live above the mostly vacant storefronts on the ground floor. Three residents of the building were taken to Jacobi Hospital with minor injuries – including smoke inhalation.

According to the FDNY, the fire marshals believe the cause of the fire was overloaded power circuits. The fire first reported at 3:50 a.m. and was brought under control at 5:51 a.m. Many City Islanders and elected officials said the fire illustrates the need to keep Ladder 53 open at night. The FDNY is planning to close the ladder company from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. beginning January 17.

“This morning’s horrific fire emphasizes the critical need for a full time Ladder on City Island,” said Senator Jeff Klein, who voiced opposition when the ladder closure was announced in December. “The residents of 240 City Island Avenue suffered smoke inhalation and lost their homes in the dead of winter, but we can only imagine what greater tragedy might have befallen [the residents] had Ladder 53 not been first on the scene.”

The building, which was located at the corner of City Island Avenue and Schofield Street, is just around the corner from Engine Company 70 and Ladder Company 53. City Island residents at the scene said that a second ladder company from off the island arrived about 20 minutes later – which they feel is too long a response time.

“This was a very severe fire, and we are all very lucky that we have a ladder company on City Island,” said Councilman Vacca, who visited the scene. “This goes to the heart of why FDNY Commissioner Scoppetta’s decision to close Ladder Company 53 at night is ill advised and dangerous – and this closing is imminent.”

Both Klein and Vacca have met with and/or called Mayor Michael Bloomberg and FDNY commissioner Nicolas Scoppetta, but so far the proposal to close the ladder company at night has not been rescinded. A vigil walk from Hawkins Park to the City Island firehouse is scheduled for Friday, January 9, as of press time .

The building, which is of pre-war construction, housed several SRO apartments, spans four lots stretching from Schofield to Winters streets. Commercial real estate occupies the ground floor. The Department of Buildings has issued a full vacate order for the building, while tests are made into its soundness.

“Thankfully no one died, but if there is a silver lining it is that this highlights the need to keep Ladder Company 53 open at night,” said City Island Civic Association president Bill Stanton. “If Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t acquiesce and recognize the importance of the ladder company now, he is turning a blind eye to City Island.”

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