Today’s news:

Firehouse closure ignites Bayside

More than 300 people packed the corner of 41st Avenue and 214th Place in Bayside last week to protest Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to close down FDNY Engine Co. 306.

The mayor’s proposed $67.2 billion budget seeks to save $55 million by shuttering 20 fire companies across the city.

When the Fire Department released the list of those companies last month, the northeast Queens community responded vehemently to the news that the closing of Engine Co. 306 would increase response times in the area from four minutes 49 seconds to six minutes four seconds.

The June 1 rally was organized by City Councilman Dan Halloran (D-Whitestone), who sits on the Council Fire & Criminal Justice Committee. “The mayor’s effort to shut this firehouse down is not going to succeed,” vowed Halloran as he stood in front of the firehouse.

The councilman said that after he asked to subpoena records from the FDNY, the firehouses his two brothers are stationed at in Brooklyn and Richmond Hill ended up on the list to be closed. “It’s awfully interesting that three Hallorans wind up on the chopping block,” he said.

Fire Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) also has a fire company in her district, Engine Co. 294 in Richmond Hill, on the chopping block. “I agree this is personal,” she said. “Are they closing any fire companies near where the mayor lives?” asked the councilwoman, to which the crowd responded with a boisterous, “No!”

The mayor’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.

The Council members were joined by state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), city Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and Uniformed Firefighters Association President Stephen Cassidy in lambasting the mayor for what they considered his misplaced priorities.

“Eighteen months ago, they made a quiet change in the way they count response times,” Cassidy said as he explained the FDNY no longer includes the time a caller is on the phone with 911 in response times. “It’s a lie! They are using false statistics to say it’s OK to close firehouses!”

Cassidy and Halloran both pointed out that, since the FDNY reduced engine companies from five- to four-man crews last year, it now takes two engine companies to stretch a line of hose and begin ´╗┐putting out a fire. “That takes about 10 minutes. Is 10 minutes acceptable?” asked Cassidy.

Halloran also said the city is cutting back on the number of the department’s fire marshals, who are in charge of investigating arsons.

“The Fire Department doesn’t just put out fires,” said Community Board 11 District Manager Susan Seinfeld. “They’re the first responders in every emergency.”

Bay Terrace resident Mike Klubok said he was concerned about the effect the company’s closure would have on Long Island Rail Road service should there be an incident on the tracks.

“You know why 306 isn’t here today,” asked Jack Fried, president of the 111th Precinct Community Council. “They’re out doing building inspections to make sure they’re safe.”

In a citywide demonstration Friday hundreds of firefighters and their supporters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to a rally near City Hall to denounce Bloomberg’s plan. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Council members Halloran, Crowley and Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) told the protesters the mayor’s plan must not succeed.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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