Time Nearly Up for New York Fire Patrol

Updated: 10-05-2006 10:53:20 AM

The New York Sun

City lawmakers are pressing insurance companies to delay the closure of the city's Fire Patrol amid concerns over how the salvage corps' responsibilities will be covered.

With just more than a week until the patrol's dissolution on October 15, members of the City Council yesterday questioned the motivation for shutting down the 203-year-old salvage corps, charged with protecting property during fires. At the same time, representatives of firefighters' unions testified that their response times would increase if they assumed the patrol's responsibilities.

"You don't throw the baby out with the bathwater," Council Member Tony Avella told the underwriters, who cited poor management and a lack of proven value as their main reasons for shuttering the patrol.

Representatives of the New York Board of Fire Underwriters, which funds the patrol and in January voted to disband it, stood by a 2005 report by the consulting firm Park Strategies that was critical of the patrol.

"We feel that this has been a longstanding attrition," the author of the report, Gregory Serio, the current interim administrator for the NYBFU, testified.

With dozens of patrolmen in attendance, patrol representatives called insurance companies greedy. The patrol costs $8.5 million a year to run, and patrol members estimate that they salvage more than $50 million in merchandise a year. "These people invented the bean counter," the president of the Uniformed Fire Patrolman's Association, James Nunez, said of the underwriters.

"We can't handle the added workload when our total incidents have reached all-time record levels," a member of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association's Executive Board, Lieutenant Edward Boles, said. In a statement, a spokesman for the Fire Department, Francis Gribbon, recognized the patrol's service and the "unfortunate" closing, but said the decision was not FDNY's to make.

Following the hearing, a vice president of the New York Insurance Association, Ellen Melchioni, said it was unlikely that the impending dissolution would be postponed.

"I'm sorry that the New York City Council was not aware of what's happening," she said. However, she added, "They don't save lives, they save desks and property, so the safety of the citizens of New York City is not at stake."