Ladder 53 has been saved (sigh), once again.
In the annual budget burlesque that has put the company on the chopping block, the City Council restored funding to the beleaguered City Island fire company.
Islanders, who’ve had to fight the budget battle for their fire company four years in a row now, faced doubling of response times for an off-island ladder company to reach the isolated nautical community.
Councilman Jimmy Vacca, fresh from budget negotiations on Monday, June 25, said that the City Council restored funding to all 20 FDNY companies slated for closure in the Administration’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2013.
“The City Council has restored the money, and this is the fourth time that we had to do this,” Vacca said. “Councilmembers like myself were not willing to go backwards. Certainly, with City Island’s Ladder 53 we had an open and shut case.”
No single other fire company closure in the city would have posed a greater risk to life and limb than closing Ladder 53, because it would make response times roughly double that of the city average, Vacca said.
He also added that any closures of firehouses would have resulted in increased risk to public safety across the city.
“Council Speaker Christine Quinn has been a consistent ally in this,” he said, saying her support on the public safety issue made it possible.
A final vote on Fiscal Year 2013 budget is scheduled for today (Thursday, June 28).
The Council has restored funding to keep the fire company open in fiscal years 2010, 2011, and 2012.
The island has about 33 restaurants that receive numerous visitors, often causing traffic like the Mother’s Day tie up this year that extended about two and half miles. That traffic could possibly make access difficult to near impossible for off island companies.
City Islanders have held rallies, letter writing campaigns, and even a “flashlight” march to save Ladder Company 53 over the past four years. This year Ladder 53’s plight was the subject of a front page article in the New York Times.
“This is great news, and I am glad the City Council realizes the importance of adequate fire coverage,” said Fred Ramftl, first vice-president of the City Island Civic Association. “They have also demonstrated that they care about our safety.”
But Eddie Brown, the Bronx delegate for the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said that he expects to attend more Ladder 53 rallies come next year’s budget talks.
“It is the same old story, and I am sure that we are going to be back here playing the same game next year,” Brown said. “The administration has been playing political football with the people of City Island’s lives.”
Senator Jeff Klein’s office has estimated City Island homeowners send the city and state over $3 million in property tax revenues every year, and businesses contribute well over $4 million to the coffers, not including state and city income taxes from City Island residents. It has been estimated that fire coverage for City Island costs about $3 million a year.