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Thread: At the Station, Firefighters' Fingers Remain Crossed

  1. #1
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Jan 2002

    At the Station, Firefighters' Fingers Remain Crossed

    At the Station, Firefighters' Fingers Remain Crossed


    For more than 100 years, firefighters with Engine Company 36 have made a second home of their station house in East Harlem. Soup is served in metal bowls and the uniforms of the company's 24 members hang neatly in red lockers. The brass fireman's pole and spiral cast-iron stairwell lend an air of working history.

    But a century of tradition would not have been enough to prevent the station from closing. It was one of eight firehouses scheduled to be shuttered as the city looked to make cuts in the department's budget, and only last-minute negotiations over the weekend by the City Council and the Bloomberg administration saved the stations. For now.

    "We are glad the mayor is going to take another look at things," said Firefighter Tom Mundy, who has been with the company for 33 years. Sitting down for lunch yesterday with the rest of the crew, he said that the station had been threatened with being shut down once before, during the fiscal crisis of the 1970's. Both times it escaped the knife.

    With many details yet to be worked out on trimming the current budget, however, department officials were reluctant to celebrate.

    "People feel like this was a stay of execution of sorts," said one department official who insisted on anonymity. "People are waiting for the other shoe to drop."

    Under the deal, an independent commission will study the feasibility of closing firehouses, as well as ways to cut $2.5 million from the Fire Department's budget immediately. Department officials expect the administration to look for more cuts when the budget for the next fiscal year, beginning in July, is negotiated.

    Union officials and firefighters said $2.5 million was a reasonable figure that could be reached without sacrificing public safety. "We know they are dealing with a serious budget problem," said James Slevin, vice president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association. "In the big picture, it should be easy enough to come up with that number."

    But he said that an action the Council had no control over has rankled union members. The Bloomberg administration has decided to use four firefighters rather than the current five in about 50 engine crews, Mr. Slevin said.

    The number of firefighters that staff an engine has changed over the past 20 years. At the end of the Koch administration, the city reduced engine crews to four firefighters from five, only to have the Giuliani administration reverse that decision in 1996. As part of that change, the city retained the right to go back to four-member crews if sick leave climbed above 7.5 percent.

    "We are told that number is 8.5 percent," said Mr. Slevin, whose union opposes the reduction in staffing. While acknowledging that the sick leave figure was higher than the agreed-upon number, Mr. Slevin said extenuating circumstances should have been taken into account. "A great chunk of it is Sept. 11-related medical leave," he said.

    Firefighter Mundy said his company might be forced to go to a four-member crew now. "Why should New York be punished because the terrorists chose to hit us?" he asked. He said having a five-member crew was essential in stretching the hose quickly and dealing with a fire most effectively.

    He said, however, he was simply happy that his station would survive. "We have all worked together for a long time," he said. While the firehouse wears its years well, he said it was the unseen that was really important. "It is the tradition," he said. "It is the memory of what firemen have been coming here doing for over 100 years and the sacrifice they have been willing to make for all that time."

  2. #2
    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Jan 2002

    For firehouses, bell doesn't toll

    For firehouses, bell doesn't toll


    A rally to save a Brooklyn firehouse turned into an impromptu victory celebration yesterday.

    A day after a deal that gave eight firehouses a temporary reprieve from the budget chopping block, more than 400 firehouse supporters gathered at Engine 204 in Cobble Hill to celebrate a bit of good news.

    "Everyone's pretty much relieved - for now," said Firefighter Eddie Rodriguez.

    Several politicians pledged to continue the fight to save the Degraw St. firehouse, which could still find itself on the endangered list once a committee comes up with ways to trim $2.5million from the FDNY budget.

    "We're not out of the woods yet," said City Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D-Brooklyn).

    At seven other firehouses - four in Brooklyn, two in Queens, one in Manhattan - firefighters and neighborhood folks also were breathing cautious sighs of relief.

    "We're relieved that they're not closing us immediately, but we're guarded," said Capt. Bill O'Neill of Engine 261 in Long Island City, Queens. "We still don't know what's going to happen."

    "I'd like it to become a permanent reprieve," said Stephen Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

    Members of the Bravest had argued that closing firehouses could increase danger by causing slower response times.

    "I guess we're all going to have to take a hit, but closing the firehouses ain't the way to do it," said Firefighter Kieran Colleary, a 21-year veteran of Engine 203 in Woodhaven, Queens.

    On Saturday, more than 300 people rallied in front of Engine 203. Hundreds of people also turned out in support of Engine 36 in Harlem, only to hear hours later that the firehouse would stay open.

    "When I heard it, you could count my teeth - I was smiling so hard," said Calvin Hunt, who set up a petition drive in front of Engine 36 on 125th St. "It shows that the little guy does have a voice."

    At the so-called People's Firehouse - Engine 212 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn - firefighters were grateful for the latest show of community support.

    In the mid-1970s, the firehouse was saved from closure when neighborhood people occupied it for 16 months.

    "You really appreciate how the people feel about you," said Firefighter Tom Olszewski, a 17-year veteran of Engine 212.

    With Ralph R. Ortega and Alice McQuillan

    Firefighters George Snyder and Dan McCarvill and Lt. Kieran Brosnan (l.-r.) stand yesterday outside their firehouse, Engine 36 in Harlem, which beat budget ax.

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