Ladder Company 53 is again on the chopping block in the midst of the worst financial crisis the city has faced in thirty years. A group of elected officials and concerned City Islanders met in front of the firehouse in a driving rain storm on Tuesday, March 30 to say ‘enough is enough,’ — that they will not tolerate a cut for the isolated community’s only search and rescue apparatus.
The protest comes on the heals of large demonstrations in 2009 when a budget crisis forced the mayor’s office to consider closing Ladder 53, along with 15 other FDNY companies. After months of protest, including candlelight vigils and appeals from elected officials, the fire company was saved. The mayor’s preliminary budget, effective in July, could close as many as 20 engine and ladder companies.
Congressman Joseph Crowley, Councilman James Vacca, and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley — the chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Services Committee — joined City Islanders of all ages to call on the mayor to keep Ladder 53 open at all costs.
“It is vital to keep the City Island Fire house open, as this is the only line of defense in protecting the residents of the community from fire,” Congressman Crowley said. “In a fire, seconds count — the remoteness of the community and the fact that there is only one entry and exit route require City Island to have an open an active firehouse at all times.”
Vacca said that without Ladder 53 response times would double to over ten minutes for fires requiring a ladder company — assuming that the two drawbridges leading to the island from the next-nearest ladder company in Co-op City were not up, and stated that ‘public safety is not up for discussion.’
“Last year, the people of City Island presented an open and shut case that closing Ladder 53 would put their lives in danger,” Vacca stated. “Through rallies, petition drives, even a candlelit march, we spoke with one voice to let City Hall know we won’t settle for a response time that is double the citywide average. No matter how bad the budget is, every New Yorker is entitled to basic life-saving services, and we are willing to fight all over again to have open and active firehouses at all times.”
At the rally, Councilwoman Crowley said that “fires don’t care about budgets.” Steve Cassidy, Uniformed Firefighter Association president, said that “the toll inflicted” would be massive. Island resident Barbara Dolensek stated that the community plans on fighting these proposed cuts with the same forcefulness this year. Islander Ed Sadler, a 94-year-old retired firefighter, said that based on his experiences, the island needs a ladder company to complement its engine company.