Transfers halted at firehouse

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The controversial mass transfer of 50 firefighters from a Flushing station house has been resolved to the satisfaction of local politicians, but some of those same politicians are now criticizing changes in another firefighting unit just blocks away.

On Friday, Thomas DePalma, a trustee with the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said a deal had been struck with the city Fire Department to end the transfers at the Union Street firehouse in Flushing, home to Engine Company 273 and Ladder Company 129.

A spokesman for the Fire Department could not be reached for comment as of press time.

In mid-October, the Fire Department announced that all 50 members of the two companies would be transferred in three stages because of persistent disciplinary problems.

The firefighters stationed on Union Street reportedly had slow medical emergency response times and problems with their superiors.

The transfers were criticized by state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing). The actions were challenged in court and delayed by both the UFA and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, which claimed it was an unfair solution.

In January, an appellate court ruled the transfers could go forward, and 15 firefighters were given other posts in the city on Jan. 19. Their positions were filled by 11 other firemen. The two unions, however, continued their attempts to strike a deal with the Fire Department to stop the transfers.

DePalma said there will be no more transfers of the Union Street fire station's original staff and that one of the 15 to leave - the station's UFA delegate - would return.

He also indicated that the 11 firefighters who were moved to Union Street were unhappy with the situation and they will be gradually rotated out of the fire station to other assignments as volunteers become available to fill their positions there.

"I'm just pleased there was an equitable outcome," DePalma said. "I personally believe the majority of firefighters were satisfied with the overall settlement."

DePalma said the transfers should never have progressed so far because a firefighter stationed on Union Street who had been allegedly instigating slow responses to emergency services calls had resigned late last year at the urging of the two unions.

He said once that firefighter left, the union could have stepped in to resolve any remaining problems rather than having the FDNY resort to the transfers.

Stavisky and McLaughlin said they were pleased with the agreement.

Although the Fire Department insisted the safety of residents was a priority and the gradual transfers would allow new firefighters to become familiar with the Flushing area, Stavisky and McLaughlin said their constituents were being placed at risk.

"The firefighters who have been at this station for some time are familiar with the layouts of streets and with the locations of hydrants and specific addresses," McLaughlin had said. "Further, they have gained indispensable knowledge of buildings located throughout Flushing."

But the state assemblyman now is concerned about a decrease in personnel at Engine Company 274 on Murray Street.

Last week, the Fire Department transferred one member of the five-man company to southeast Queens, DePalma said.

He said contractually the Fire Department has to have 60 five-man engine companies throughout the city and there are currently 71 of those in operation, which puts the department in compliance.

A Fire Department source could not comment specifically on Engine Company 274 but said the five-man engine companies are reviewed each year and staff changes are made according to the needs of the area.

"I am fearful that the elimination of the fifth firefighter will jeopardize the ability of the department to adequately serve the community," McLaughlin said, noting firefighting experts have told him a four-man engine company is 30 percent less effective than a five-man company.

City Councilwoman Julia Harrison (D-Flushing), who did not involve herself in the transfers dispute, said she would back the union if it fought the Engine Company 274 change.

"I think a five-man crew is much to be desired," Harrison said. "I don't see downsizing as a solution to anything."

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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