Firehouse ruling due

Judge could delay closings

By LISA L. COLANGELO and ALICE McQUILLAN
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

A Brooklyn judge set the stage yesterday for a possible eleventh-hour reprieve for six firehouses facing the budget ax.

Supreme Court Justice James Starkey will decide tomorrow whether to postpone the closings temporarily, the day before the firehouses are to begin shutting down. Starkey is hearing a lawsuit aimed at keeping them open.

The judge said it would take him several weeks to rule on the merits of the suit, which alleges the city didn't properly notify the community or perform a formal environmental review.

On Monday night, Mayor Bloomberg spared two of eight firehouses slated to close. The surprise move came after state legislators preserved a city aid package that had been vetoed by the governor.

But he sounded pessimistic about saving the other six.

"We don't have the money to do everything," the mayor said yesterday. "I'm trying to keep the city as safe as we can possibly afford to keep it."

So now, one of the last efforts to save the firehouses is the lawsuit filed by elected officials and people who live in the affected communities.

Sparks flew yesterday when city attorney Chlarens Orsland suggested asking the plaintiffs to compensate the city if the projected firehouse closings don't go through.

"That's even more high-handed than the actual closings," said plaintiffs' attorney John Burns.

Closing the six firehouses would save at least $8.1 million a year, according to the Fire Department.

The city argued that the grim fiscal outlook means the firehouses have to go.

"We'd love to keep all the firehouses open. The money is just not there," Orsland said.

Earlier yesterday, a firefighter group issued a study that warned response time would jump by 30 seconds to more than a minute in areas affected by the closings.

"I say to Mayor Bloomberg: Don't jeopardize anybody needlessly," said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

City Law Department spokeswoman Lisa Zebrowski said, "We believe ... the judge will recognize that the city has the legal right to close the six firehouses. In addition, as was explained in court, public safety will not be adversely affected by the closings."

Four of the firehouses on the chopping block are in Brooklyn: Engine 204 in Cobble Hill, Engine 212 in Greenpoint, Engine 278 in Sunset Park and Engine 209 in Williamsburg/Bedford-Stuyvesant. The other two are Engine 261 in Long Island City, Queens, and Engine 36 in East Harlem.

Originally published on May 21, 2003

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