Standing at the foot of the City Island Bridge amid heavy traffic streaming to more than 30 restaurants on Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 10 – City Islanders called on the mayor to keep the island’s Ladder Company 53 open after June 30.
As the thousands of cars inched toward City Island forming a traffic backup that is a warm weather staple for the remote community, Vacca and his fellow elected officials Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto led dozens of City Islanders in a protest walk over the bridge.
The protesters took advantage of traffic which sometimes stretches over two miles at its worst, to encourage motorists and passengers to sign pre-made postcards to Mayor Michael Bloomberg pleading for full-time fire protection from Ladder 53. Vacca personally handed them out to passing motorists on the bridge.
“The fight to save Ladder 53 is already resonating across the Bronx, but on Mother’s Day we’re sending a message that this fight is for all New Yorkers,” said Vacca, who is chair of the Council’s Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee. “Not only is City Island a year-round destination for thousands, but closing a fire company in any community has a ripple effect citywide as neighboring companies pick up the slack.”
Ladder 53 on Schofield Street is City Island’s only readily available search and rescue apparatus, and has been subject to nighttime closures since January when firefighter staffing has dipped below a certain level.
With the closure of Ladder Company 53, the response time for another company to a fire on City Island is about 10 minutes, according to the FDNY. City Island’s Engine Company 70 remains in operation around-the-clock.
The reconstruction of the Bartow/Shore Road circle and road leading both eastbound and westbound beginning on May 18 to an exit and entrance to the Hutchinson River Parkway would possibly slow down access to City Island for the nearest off-island ladder company, located in Co-op City. That ladder company would already have to navigate across two drawbridges and through Pelham Bay Park.
In addition to the narrowing of the roadway for three years while construction takes place, the reconstruction of the City Island Bridge expected to begin in 2010 is also expected to hamper and delay access to City Island for motorists and the FDNY.
“[The planed closure of Ladder 53] clearly reeks of Mayor Bloomberg callously cutting the budget and not caring about the safety of City Islanders,” Benedetto said.
Many island residents felt that Bloomberg and FDNY commissioner Nicolas Scoppetta were out of touch with their needs.
“The ones making the decision [to close Ladder Company 53] know the least about it,” said City Island resident and retired firefighter Ed Sadler.