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City Island rallies in town hall to save Ladder 53

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City Island sent a strong message to City Hall about gambling with their safety on the planned closure of Ladder 53, and hopefully the administration is listening.

More than 300 Island residents packed a town hall-style meeting at Lido’s Restaurant on Tuesday, June 14 to protest the planned closing of Ladder 53 due to budget cuts, effective Friday, July 1.

The City Island Civic Association, City Island Chamber of Commerce, and Councilman Jimmy Vacca organized the rally. The Fire Department’s absence was duly noted, as there was an empty chair placed in the front of the room that represented the fire department’s failure to send a representative.

The speakers emphasized their concerns about the doubling of emergency response time to the isolated island community.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Councilman Jimmy Vacca, Councilman Joel Rivera, chair of the City Council’s Fire and Criminal Justice committee Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, Councilwoman Letitia James, and union officials, supported City Island.

Because of the unique situation of City Island, de Blasio blasted the cut, calling it the least fair of any of the 20 proposed fire company closures in the city.

“By any measure, the cuts to Ladder 53 represent a total surrender of government’s first responsibility: protecting its people,” de Blasio said. “There could be no justification for making residents wait five additional minutes to get help if there’s a fire or medical emergency. Closing Ladder 53 is insanity, and the residents of City Island won’t stand for it.”

There are sacred cows in government, said Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and public safety and education are two that should not be cut.

Diaz said that if there is one fire company closure, it affects every other neighboring community.

“We cannot balance the budget by sacrificing our safety,” Diaz said. “We know that City Island is remote, and that traffic can be tremendous on the weekends. Given that, we cannot afford to lose Ladder 53.”

Vacca vowed to fight the cut to the end, and said that the FDNY’s decision to release the companies all around the city that are facing the axe has only galvanized communities to support keeping firehouses open.

“On three separate occasions, the city council has restored funding to keep all engine and ladder companies open citywide,” Vacca said. “We called a town hall meeting tonight because we never want to see this issue rear its ugly head again.”

Virginia Gallagher believes that in the summer, when traffic is heaviest on the island, that a response time for an off-island ladder company could be as high as 20 minutes.

“The fact of the matter is they are not going to get here in time to get someone out of a burning house,” Gallagher said.

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