City Islanders scoff at form-letter response

A flashlight protest on a frigid January night drew hundreds of City Island residents (above), despite the cold and start of a weekend. Tensions about the planned nighttime and possible full-time closing of Ladder Company 53 on City Island still run high. Photo by Patrick Rocchio

City Island residents who have e-mailed the NYC fire commissioner to protest the impact of closing the island’s Ladder Company 53 are receiving a form-letter response that fails to address their specific concerns.

The e-mail, a pat response to protests about the nighttime and possible full-time closing of Ladder Company 53, registers like a slap in the face to many who feel strongly on the issue.

Councilman Jimmy Vacca, the new chairman of the council’s Fire & Criminal Justice committee, said he plans on standing firm in fighting the 16 proposed FDNY closings around the city – especially Ladder Company 53.

“There is a good reason that the ladder and engine companies on City Island have not been allowed to make runs off the island, and that is because of the isolation of community and the prevalence of wood-framed houses built close together,” Vacca said. “Those rules have been in place for years.”

The form letter response that City Island residents are receiving claim that in closing firehouses, the department was “able to come up with a solution that will provide significant savings for city taxpayers without affecting the FDNY’s ability to respond to emergencies.”

One of those who were upset by the callousness of the response was Barbara Dolensek, an island resident who said that the specific concerns she e-mailed to FDNY Commissioner Nicolas Scoppetta and Mayor Michael Bloomberg were never addressed.

Dolensek sent a 300-word e-mail to Scoppetta and Bloomberg that asked them to address the doubling of response times to fires on the island, the heavy traffic in the summer that could block access for off-island ladder companies, and a number of suspicious fires in the past few years – as well as the misleadingly low statistic in terms of numbers of runs because of the rules limiting Ladder Company 53 responses to City Island.

She said she felt that if Bloomberg and Scoppetta really took the time to study the issue, they would find that City Island presents unique challenges when fighting fires.

“I don’t think Scoppetta has been here, but even if he has, he is not a firefighter – he doesn’t understand what it means to be a firefighter here,” Dolensek said. “Mayor Bloomberg has been here for dinners, but to the best of my knowledge has not been up and down the side streets. If they both took the trouble driving out here, looking around, and driving back, they could address the situation with first-hand knowledge.”

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