City Island hears Vacca grill fire commissioner

A protest before the closure of Ladder Company 53 (above) on City Island on Friday, January 9 drew elected officials and hundreds of residents on a cold evening. The Council hearing brought many City Islanders to City Hall. Photos by Patrick Rocchio

City Islanders went to City Hall on Friday, January 16 to a City Council Fire and Criminal Justice committee hearing to express their outrage at the FDNY’s plan to close Ladder Company 53 on City Island at night.

However, despite intense questioning from Councilman Jimmy Vacca, FDNY commissioner Nicolas Scoppetta did not budge on his closure plan, and now Ladder 53 is closed at night.

However, scattered coverage at night at Ladder 53, at 169-71 Schofield Street, will be provided due to a surplus of about 100 to 200 more FDNY firefighters than are needed in New York City. As attrition and retirement reduces the total number of firefighters Ladder 53 will be staffed at night less and less, and finally, not at all. The FDNY is not expected to do any additional hiring for the next two years.

“We had a hearing on Friday which was very contentious,” Vacca said. “We had a bus from City Island with residents, and the hearing started at 1 p.m. and lasted until about 5:30 p.m.”

Vacca questioned Scoppetta, who agreed with many of the points raised, including the fact that the closure of Ladder 53 between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. would double response time on the island – making them more than twice the city’s average. Nevertheless, Scoppetta stuck to his decision.

“The city has an excess of 200 firefighters, and the administration has agreed to assign those firefighters to the five different ladder and engine companies that were closed due to the budget cuts,” Vacca said. “It is a night to night situation. Obviously, this is unacceptable. We are planning further action.”

Barbara Dolensek, a City Island resident who was at the hearing, noted that Commissioner Scoppetta left the meeting after Vacca and several other members of the City Council questioned him. At one point, Vacca asked Scoppetta if police coverage should be taken away from City Island because there is low crime.

It is the contention of the FDNY that because there are so few runs out of Ladder Company 53, it will not greatly affect public safety if closed at night. Islanders believe that due to the island’s geographic isolation, safety will be greatly compromised.

Scoppetta did not stay to listen to the testimony of City Island residents, who were overwhelmingly opposed to the closure.

“Scoppetta left before we gave testimony – he only listened to Councilman Vacca, as well as Councilman Avella of Queens,” Dolensek said. “We were staffed last night and tonight – it is a reprieve.”

Dolensek said that the fire department’s amount of surplus firefighters depends on how many are out sick, on vacation, or assigned elsewhere.

“We are now conducting a letter writing campaign [to Mayor Bloomberg] – we are not getting equal rights as taxpayers,” Dolensek said. “Clearly, the mayor is the only hope right now, because he wants to get reelected.”

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