Facing a Fire Sale
30 additional companies would get ax in contingency

By Glenn Thrush
STAFF WRITER; Staff writer Dan Janison contributed to this story.

April 16, 2003

At least 30 more fire companies would be axed if state legislative leaders, Washington, and city labor unions fail to respond to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's fiscal SOS.

The latest possible closings would come on top of plans already in the works to eliminate eight fire companies, and would generate $44.3 million in additional savings for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The mayor is seeking to head off a cash deficit of $3.8 billion for that year.

"My hope is it will never have to be implemented," Bloomberg said of the Fire Department cuts in the 2003-2004 budget he unveiled yesterday.

"We just have an obligation to be prepared for everything. I want Albany and everybody else to understand what would happen."

A senior fire official said after the speech that his department was scrambling to find alternative cuts but added that there would be "no way we can absorb a cut of that magnitude without significant fire company closings."

The Fire Department has had to find $26.5 million in savings over the past 10 months.

Bloomberg said that in addition to closing as many as 40 fire companies next year under the most dire financial scenario imaginable, the department would have to reduce the number of firefighters assigned to 54 engine companies from five to four.

The overtime budget would be cut as well.

Union officials aren't happy, noting that 155 civilian employees have already received pink slips and 33 fire marshals are being reassigned, leaving 83 on the job.

"After all of the cuts that have already been made to the fire marshals, and proposed firehouse closings, this department will not be able to provide the level of fire protection that the citizens need," said Stephen Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

The city "will never be as prepared as we need to be for a possible terrorist attack or to handle two or more disasters at the same time," he said.

The number of firefighters would actually increase, because officials say that hiring them is cheaper than paying overtime to veteran firefighters.

There are 207 firehouses in the city, housing more than 240 companies.

Staff writer Dan Janison contributed to this story.