Volume 78 - Number 30 / December 24 - 30, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Fire Department is taking heat over Governors Island closing

By Julie Shapiro

Angry Community Board 1 members got a sympathetic ear, not an adversary, when they spoke against the Fire Department’s impending cuts on Dec. 16.

Michael Weinlein, the Fire Department’s Manhattan borough commander, agreed with the board that the service reductions were not ideal.

“No one in the Fire Department or anywhere is happy with any of these cuts,” Weinlein said.

The Fire Department will save $8.9 million by closing the Governors Island firehouse and reducing nighttime hours at four other stations in the city, including Engine 4 on South St. Ladder 15 will continue to operate at the South St. station 24 hours a day.

To determine the cuts, effective Jan. 17, the department looked at statistics on fires and fatalities from the last seven years, Weinlein said.

Julie Menin, chairperson of C.B. 1, was angry to hear that Downtown is the only part of Manhattan to lose firefighters.

“That is not acceptable to us,” she said. “We’re going to have to organize to fight it.”

Weinlein advised the board members to speak to elected officials who can speak to the mayor, the only person who can overturn the cuts.

“No one in the Fire Department is advocating [for this],” he said.

The station on Governors Island currently has two firefighters and an officer assigned 24 hours a day. The island is only open to the public over the summer, but people are there year-round doing construction, and the island has many historic buildings without modern fireproofing. Next spring, an artists residency program will move to the island, and the New York Harbor School will open on the island in 2010. The department said firefighters would respond to Governors Island emergencies from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn by fireboat or ferry.

Weinlein said that the Fire Department might assign units to the island when it is occupied, but he did not give more detail. Steve Ritea, a department spokesperson, would say only, “Any time the situation warrants, we will send firefighters.”

The Uniformed Firefighters’ Association slammed the cuts.

“If it’s an island with no one on it, that’s one thing,” said Tom Butler, U.F.A. spokesperson. “But it it’s an island with people on it, you need someone to respond and provide protection.”

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