Volume 78 - Number 32 / January 7 - 13, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Editorial

Firehouses matter

Many New Yorkers feel an emotional pull to their neighborhood firehouses, and with good reason. Quite simply, our Bravest protect us. It is understandable why any cuts to the Fire Department trigger alarms and resistance.

Fortunately, the reductions to four firehouses in residential areas of the city should not affect response times. In each case, the ladder company will remain in the houses 24/7, but the engine company’s hours will be reduced, including at Engine 4 on South St. These cuts, scheduled to take effect Jan. 17, are probably worth withstanding given the severe cuts and tax hikes that city and state residents will be facing.

But we strongly object to closing the Governors Island firehouse. Contrary to a common myth, the island is not “unoccupied.” In addition to the 128,000 visits to the island this summer and fall, there are always security guards there, and there is substantial construction and demolition work in the off season. A full-time artist program is expected to begin this spring, and the city plans to move a high school to the island in a year. The firehouse needs its skeletal staff of three.

The F.D.N.Y. says it will have emergency services on the island at times when there are enough people to warrant it. But how many construction workers, security guards or artists is it O.K. to put a ferry ride away from help?

And it is not just people. There are dozens of landmarked buildings that need protection. The island includes a national and New York City historic district, and the federal government gave the island to the state and the city with the understanding we would take care of it, despite the high maintenance costs. We can’t let the beautiful 19th-century buildings burn while firefighters scramble through traffic and Downtown’s construction-riddled streets to get to the seven-minute ferry, which could take time to warm up. The Fire Department will not say how much longer it will take to get to a fire on the island, nor has it said how much money will be saved by closing this house.

Looking at the other engine companies nearby Engine 4, we think the F.D.N.Y. is right that Lower Manhattan can withstand this nighttime cut without sacrificing safety much, and we suspect the same is true in the other parts of the city. People are infinitely more valuable than property and if we thought there was more than a very minimal increase in risk to residents, we would be more concerned about the nighttime cuts.

The city seems safer now from fires than it used to be. Do people in Hudson Square or Soho feel more unsafe because the old Spring St. firehouse — a few blocks from our office — is now a museum? We don’t.

The $8.9 million savings is small, but we have to tighten everywhere we can. There are many painful choices and few easy cuts.

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