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Crowley slams proposal to cut fire companies

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Fire companies are once again on the chopping block in the mayor’s opening round of city budget negotiations, including one that covers Ridgewood, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said.

Engine 271, which had been slated for closure last year as the city tightened its belt, is up for consideration as the city Fire Department begins to study where to make its reductions.

A Fire Department spokesman said no fire companies had yet been identified for closure this year, noting the budget process is in its beginning stages. The department is currently examining its statistics, the spokesman said. The proposed closings would cut about $28 million from the city’s expenses.

Much work remains to be done before the Council hammers out its final budget in June, and it is possible other budget solutions will be found. Last year the Council agreed to commit part of its discretionary funding to keep 16 fire companies open, but Crowley’s office said that was a one-time arrangement.

“It is alarming that so many fire company closures are even being proposed in the mayor’s preliminary budget,” Crowley, chairwoman of the Council Fire and Criminal Justice Committee, said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to our taxpaying New Yorkers that when it comes to safety, we deliver.”

Bloomberg said other cost-cutting measures were possible, such as removing the Fire Department call boxes made obsolete by cell phones. It was not clear how much of the $28 million that would cover.

Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx) criticized Bloomberg’s plan as unacceptable.

“This plan represented a threat to life and life then, and it represents the same threat now. We simply won’t stand for it,” he said.

Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, had little to say about the situation so early in the game.

“Any firehouse closings will compromise public safety and endanger the lives and property of New York City’s taxpayers,” he said.

Crowley’s office said last year that Queens had the worst response time in the city at six minutes, a minute longer than the citywide average. Engine 271 responded to 2,550 emergency calls in 2008, according to the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 5:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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