City playing with fire

Memo warns of danger from FDNY cuts


Six neighborhoods that lost their firehouses on Sunday could face longer response times for medical emergencies, according to an internal FDNY memo obtained by the Daily News.

Engine company firefighters have been making Emergency Medical Service runs since 1995, and they get there on average nearly two minutes faster than FDNY ambulances, department statistics show.

But the memo - sent to FDNY dispatchers a day after the firehouse closings - says fire companies now first in line to cover the six neighborhoods should not respond to medical emergencies unless backup companies are available.

Pat Bahnken, head of the Uniformed Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics Union of the FDNY, said the increased response time could mean more deaths from heart attacks and other medical emergencies.

"My EMTs and medics can get there within six minutes, but if the firefighters can get there in four minutes, there is a much higher chance of survival," Bahnken said.

Last year, city firefighters responded to 156,461 medical emergencies, getting there in an average of 4 minutes and 21 seconds, according to FDNY statistics. It takes ambulances more than six minutes.

Grim outlook

"People are going to die because we don't have first responders in those neighborhoods," said Dave Rosenzwig, leader of the FDNY Dispatchers Union.

Fire Department officials have acknowledged that response times will increase with the firehouse closings.

FDNY spokesman Frank Gribbon said an updated computer database to dispatch medical runs will help cut down response time. He said it is not uncommon to hold backup responders when the first company is busy.

Mayor Bloomberg has said no one will be endangered by the fire company closings, which will save the city about $8 million a year.

But union officials are pointing to the medical runs as another example of the way the firehouse closings affect public safety.

"People are being told that there will be no impact on public safety with the closure of these firehouses, but the truth is that without a certified first-responder engine company, the likelihood of a person being saved from a possible heart attack has decreased tremendously," said James Slevin, the vice president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

Originally published on May 29, 2003