Permanent closure for Ladder 53

Councilman Jimmy Vacca led a protest on the steps of City Hall against the closure of Ladder Company 53 at night. He has vowed to continue to fight. Photo courtesy of Councilman Jimmy Vacca’s office

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg released his doomsday budget that called for the elimination of 23,000 city jobs, it became known that one of the casualties might be City Island’s Ladder Company 53 – and not just at night.

According to memorandum coming from FDNY commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta – it now appears possible that the FDNY plans a permanent closure of Ladder 53 at 169-71 Schofield Street—24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The official FDNY document state “the four fire company nighttime closings will become full-time closings effective 7-1-09.” The mayor’s budget also calls for the elimination of 500 firefighters through mostly attrition.

“The mayor has issued a doomsday scenario, basically trying to get givebacks from the unions,” said Councilman Jimmy Vacca. “I am still fighting the initial cut to Ladder Company 53. Even though Ladder 53 officially closed two weeks ago, it has been open every night except for the first one, and I will continue to fight for Ladder Company 53.”

Ladder Company 53 has remained open because there is an excess of firefighters on the city’s payroll. As attrition, and possibly layoffs, decrease the number of firefighters, Ladder Company 53 will be staffed less and less until it is finally shut down at night.

Now the FDNY’s response to the mayor’s initial budget for Fiscal Year 2010 is a proposal that would close the Ladder 53 during all hours, permanently.

The move is especially troubling since Ladder 53 performs all search and rescue for City Island, and without the company the nearest would be in Co-op City – making for at least a nine minute response time for the geographically isolated community, much higher than the city’s average.

“First, they were saying Ladder Company 53 was just going to be closed at night,” said Eddie Brown, Bronx trustee of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. “Now it is 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week.”

While City Island’s Engine Company 70 would remain open, as part of Bloomberg’s proposed budget cuts it could see the amount of firefighters manning the station reduced from five to four. This would be a citywide cut, and because of the deteriorating economy, would take place even though Engine 70 was promised an extra fire fighter to make up for the nighttime closure of Ladder Company 53.

Barbara Dolensek, of the City Island Civic Association, set out to show the dangers of not having an appropriate amount of fire personnel assigned to the island.

“We did a count of the amount of homes on City Island that are set back so far from the curb that they would require two to three additional lengths of hoses to extinguish a fire,” Dolensek said. “We counted more than 120. We plan on presenting these findings to the FDNY.”

Both Dolensek and Brown agreed that the reduced staffing would put City Island residents at risk.

“This is going to put the lives of City Islanders in jeopardy – there is no question about it,” Brown said.

More from Around NYC