Ladder 53 spared the budget ax again

For a while, it looked like the fight to keep Ladder 53 on City Island fully operational 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, could be heading to a new round of protests.

Instead, a deal was worked out between the City Council and the mayor that saved 20 fire companies from being closed at night. Although Ladder 53 was never mentioned by name, many believed that it would end up being one of the companies after previously being closed at night during the first half of 2009.

The deal was reached when the City Council reworked Mayor Bloomberg’s $585 million in proposed cuts by reallocating savings found in other areas.

Councilman Jimmy Vacca said that he was especially pleased with the restoration of the 20 fire companies, especially in light of the city’s response to the blizzard in December 2010.

Because of an ongoing budget crises, the issue of funding had come up more than once during the fiscal year, he said.

“We have saved the firehouses once again,” Vacca said. “What used to be a yearly exercise has now become one every six months. Imagine if we had 20 companies closed in New York City during the response to the snow storm in December, especially since the city’s response was so terrible. I was one of the members of the City Council who fought hard against this cut, and I hope this matter never rears its ugly head again.”

Ladder 53 performs all of the search and rescue operations for City Island and works out of the same Schofield Street station as Engine 70. The next closest ladder company would be in Co-op City, with a minimum response time that is around 9 minutes. Since the majority of fire fatalities occur at night, losing a ladder company on the isolated island community, which is only accessible from one three lane bridge, was particularly troubling.

The City Island community rallied hard against the planned closure of the Ladder 53 in the Fiscal 2010 and Fiscal 2011 budgets.

These rallies included flashlight vigils, trips to the steps of City Hall, and rallies in front of the firehouse. Councilman Vacca, Congressman Joseph Crowley, Senator Jeff Klein, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Councilman Joel Rivera and fire union officials often joined these rallies.

Barbara Dolensek, a City Island Civic Association board member resident who fought hard against the planned cuts in 2009 and 2010, said she was glad that the City Council had come up with the money once again to restore the cuts. She speculates that the fire commissioner Salvatore Cassano may have understood the situation which would have response times doubling in the isolated island community better than his predecessor, since he was a rank-and-file firefighter.

“I am just delighted that the Council has come through with the money,” Dolensek said.

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