Amtrak bridge work poses hazard if Ladder 53 closes

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Councilman Jimmy Vacca led concerned advocates for keeping Ladder 53 open at the Bartow Pell Traffic Circle in Pelham Bay Park on Tuesday, June 2. (L-r) Firefighter Walter Henning, Eddie Boles from the New York firefighters union, Helen Anderson, Maureen Hraska, Borough President Ruben Diaz, Councilman Jimmy Vacca, Eddie Boles of the fire officers union, Assemblyman Benedetto’s chief of staff Ben Randazzo, and Congressman Crowley’s representative Elana Schwartz near where new Amtrack bridge construction would likely increase FDNY response times from Co-op City to City Island even further.

City Island residents and elected officials from all over the borough called on the mayor to keep the island’s Ladder Company 53 open come July 1, when the FDNY has scheduled it for closure.

A press conference, on Tuesday, June 2, was held on the same day that the city began work on a three-year-long bridge replacement project that will narrow an important City Island access road from four lanes to two lanes. The construction will occur near the Bartow Pell Circle – to a bridge crossing the Amtrak rail line.

Those present said this would hamper access to City Island for the next nearest ladder company in Co-op City, which must also cross a drawbridge and use the road currently being reconstructed – the Hutchinson River Parkway extension – to reach fires above the first floor of buildings on the island.

“The traffic on this island is already a nightmare, and these lane closures will only make a bad situation worse,” said Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. “City Island is already isolated from the rest of the Bronx, and even in the best conditions the FDNY estimates that fire response times would climb to an unacceptable 10 minutes. With more construction and more traffic, it is easy to imagine those times rising even further.”

Diaz said that he felt it was the borough’s number one priority because so many people go to City Island in the spring, summer, and fall for recreation and to eat at the island’s 30 restaurants.

Ladder 53, City Island’s only search and rescue apparatus, is currently subject to nighttime closures, but would be completely eliminated under the FDNY’s proposed budget plan.

If Ladder 53 closed, restaurants, marinas, boatyards and many older wooden-framed homes built close together would have to be served by off-island companies and Engine 70 from the island, which would remain in operation. Councilman Jimmy Vacca has been fighting against Ladder 53’s closure since December, when the fire department’s intentions became clear.

“Even before we learned of this [service road construction] project, we knew that closing Ladder 53 was a dangerous idea; but to move ahead with this closure now, despite knowing that both access roads to City Island will be backed up for miles, would be utter negligence,” Vacca said. “Now it all comes down to the mayor, whom I am urging to take a fresh look at this cut.”

City Island resident Maureen Hraska agreed: “They are taking a serious risk by closing this ladder company; my major concern is safety.”

Diaz said that the mayor has an opportunity to reverse the course of the FDNY’s planed cut before a tragedy occurs.

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