Today’s news:

Officials Fight For Fire Department Restoration

With several firehouses throughout the city on the chopping block as part of proposed 2010 budget reductions, firefighters and elected officials met Wednesday, June 23, outside the Fire Engine 96 and Ladder 54 to demand the mayor restore all funding to the agency that can keep the Bronx from burning once again.

It seems to have worked. According to the latest budget figures, the mayor’s office plans to restore about $37 million to the city fire department budget, which would mean keeping at the fire engines and ladder companies open. The proposed cuts, which ranged up to $41 million from the fire department, would have forced about 20 firehouses to close.

According to Marc Lavorgna, a spokesman for the Mayor’s office, the Mayor and city council have struck an agreement to restore $37 million of the fire department funding.

“The budget is a cooperative product between the mayor’s office and the council and we work well with them, that’s why we’re able to produce an on-time, balanced budget despite some very challenging circumstances, which include no state budget and still dealing with the impacts of economic recession,” he said.

“The priority in the budget is to ensure we continue to maintain the record levels of public safety that we’ve had, maintain quality of life, and the services that the city delivers while at the same time keeping the city’s fiscal house in order.”

Although the mayor’s office did not release information about which firehouses were targeted for closure, Councilwoman and chair of the fire and criminal justice committee, Elizabeth Crowley, said any cuts could put the borough in danger of seeing fire levels rise as high as they did in the 1970s.

“The last time the city closed the fire companies in the 1970s, a vast percentage of the Bronx burned down,” she said. “Forty years later, the borough is still rebuilding after those fires. Let’s be clear: the losses that accrued from the fires in the 1970s far outweighed the FDNY’s costs to the city. Let this be a warning as we continue to negotiate the budget and 20 companies remain on the chopping block.”

According to census material collected between 1970 and 1980, 97 percent of the borough, along with Harlem and the lower east side of Manhattan, was lost due to fire and abandonment. Since reported arson levels did not increase, officials said the reductions in the fire department during that time led to the dramatic rise of property loss due to fire.

According to a statement from Captain Alexander Hagan, president of the uninformed fire officers association, the FDNY has saved more than 500 citizens from fires and the department is on pace to respond to more than 500,000 emergencies this year, which breaks the annual record for emergency responses.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who helped organize the event, may be sleeping better now that the money has been restored.

“I’m a husband and a father, and as someone who lives in this district, if a firehouse like this one were to close, the nearest would be over a mile away,” he said after assuring the crowd he and representatives from across the city would fight to keep the firehouses open.

Reach reporter Max Mitchell at (718) 742-3394 or mmitchell@cnglocal.com

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