City Island’s Ladder Co. 53 saved

Pleas from elected officials, community leaders, and even the children of City Island appears to have done the trick, as a last minute deal saved Ladder 53 from the ax. Some credited the growing protests to the closure, pictured above, with the victory. Photo by Patrick Rocchio

Just two weeks before Ladder Company 53 on City Island was set to close permanently, a last minute budget agreement saving the company was announced on Monday, June 15.

The City Council and Mayor Bloomberg will restore $17 million in funds to allow the FDNY to continue the full-time operation of the fire company housed out of Schofield Street, as well as several others around the city that were also slated to close.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Councilman Jimmy Vacca and other elected officials stood with City Island residents in demanding the mayor keep Ladder 53 open. Ladder 53 had been set to close permanently on July 1. It has been staffed primarily on night shifts since January 17.

“Today’s agreement is a vindication for thousands of City Island residents and supporters who have been fighting for seven months to preserve the basic life-saving services in this remote community,” Vacca said.

Diaz said: “City Island, and in fact the entire Bronx, rose up to save Ladder 53 from closure, and I am grateful that the city saw the error of its ways and restored funding in the budget for this critical service. A potential disaster has been averted.”

Without Ladder 53, response times on the island would have jumped from under 5 minutes to over 10 minutes because the next nearest fire house is over four miles away in Co-op City.

Since December, when the cuts were announced, thousands of the island’s nearly 5,000 residents have participated in rallies, marches, petition drives, and other protests.

The news came as a pleasant surprise to many City Islanders who took part in the growing protests to keep Ladder Company 53 open and staffed.

“This is great news,” said City Island Civic Association vice-president Barbara Dolensek. “We are sorry that the mayor did not decide to do this on his own. At least he has agreed to restore funding.”

Having both a ladder and engine company on the island is particularly important in the summer, residents argued, when heavy traffic streaming to more than 30 restaurants and marinas sometimes makes accessing the island difficult. There was also a concern about City Island’s housing stock of older, wooden frames houses built close together.

“We argued from the beginning that taking away Ladder 53 could have dangerous and possibly even deadly consequences, and I am proud to say that my colleagues in the council heard our message loud and clear,” Vacca said. “This victory belongs to the thousands of residents who showed up at rallies, signed postcards to the mayor, and let everyone know that this was a fight we were never going to give up on.”

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