Fire Dept. to maintain Totten plan

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On Dec. 11 the city Fire Department broke ground on a new $44 million Fire Academy on the site of its current facility on Randall's Island, which will include three new buildings.

Since 1997 the FDNY has been expected to take over Fort Totten and build a Fire Training Academy and Life Safety Campus on 10 acres in the northeast corner of the Civil War-era fort. The Totten compound was to be financed by the sale of the Fire Department's Randall's Island facility.

In a statement issued last week, the Fire Department maintained that its new Randall's Island facility was not a replacement for the planned Fort Totten academy.

The department said it "has developed a two-phase approach for training that is both cost effective and beneficial to the Bayside community.

"We are constructing new simulation and live-burn training buildings at Randall's Island while working with federal and state agencies on the transfer of Fort Totten and its future redevelopment," the city Fire Department said in a statement.

It was not clear as of presstime Tuesday how the city Fire Department had financed the new Randall's Island construction, whether there had been any changes in its plans for Fort Totten or how it intended to pay for the Totten venture.

Larry Ordine, chairman of the Army Restoration Advisory Board and vice chairman of the Coast Guard RAB - the civilian advisory groups working with the Army to clean up contaminants at Totten - said he suspected environmental concerns were the reason for the FDNY's decision to stay at Randall's Island.

There have been reports of an uncapped landfill used by the military in the vicinity of the Fire Department's corner of Totten.

"It looks to me that the Fire Department did not want to put a controlled fire on top of a sanitary landfill," he said. "Prudence has finally won out over politics."

The Fire Department could not be reached for further comment as of press time about environmental concerns at Totten, where mercury and other contaminants have been found in Little Bay and the lands of the former military base.

According to the November 1996 reuse proposal for Fort Totten issued by the FDNY, the agency was expected to take over care of the fort and divide it up for several purposes, including city parkland, office space for non-profit groups, and the fire academy.

As news of the Randall's Island groundbreaking filtered through the community, local community board heads, U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), and the borough president's office claimed the impact on the Fire Department's Fort Totten plans would be negligible.

A spokesman for Borough President Claire Shulman said she met with city Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen Monday to discuss the agency's plans for the fort.

The Fire Department's plans "are still basically in effect at Fort Totten" said Dan Andrews, a spokesman for Shulman.

"They are serious about having a real presence there in an academic and administrative way," Andrews said of the FDNY.

Community Board 7 Chairman Adrian Joyce, a member of the Fort Totten Redevelopment Authority, or FTRA, also affirmed the Fire Department would maintain a presence at the fort.

"As far as I know nothing has changed," Joyce said. The FTRA was commissioned in the mid-90s to develop a use plan for the fort during its transfer from the federal government to the city.

Joyce said any fire training facilities that require a controlled burn or incendiary situations should be located at the Randall's Island center rather than Totten to avoid endangering nearby communities in Queens.

When asked about the future of the Fire Department at Fort Totten, Bernard Haber, chairman of Community Board 11 and an FTRA member, said "my guess is it's pretty much in place."

Community Boards 7 and 11 border Fort Totten.

Ackerman, who has worked on the issue of the fort's future since it was decommissioned by the Army, said he was "almost a little bit relieved" that the Fire Department was moving its incendiary activities.

"The only thing I was concerned about was the burning," he said. Ackerman and Shulman spokesman Andrews said keeping the agency's training facilities for controlled fire at Randall's Island would only mean one less structure at Totten, not the abandoning of the entire academy.

"It's a positive thing for the community," Ackerman said. Reports that the agency was pulling out of Totten altogether are "completely wrong and erroneous," he said.

Posted 7:17 pm, October 10, 2011
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