After months of speculation that 20 fire companies would be shuttered overnight to save money, the city now says those closures will not happen. Yet politicians and residents who were worried about their neighborhood fire company do not think they are in the clear. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
The City Council says a slew of proposed budget cuts, including overnight closures of more than a dozen fire companies, are off the table, thanks to a deal reached with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Through negotiations with the mayor, lawmakers were able to prevent cuts to the New York City Fire Department, to senior services and youth programs, and to the Administration for Children's Services. They were even able to stave off some of the parking meter rate hikes set to take effect this year.
While the city never confirmed that Engine 161 in South Beach, Staten Island was to be one of 20 fire companies around the city to be closed overnight, sources say it was on the chopping block.
The city council's deal got a lukewarm reaction at best from residents, who say the city should leave their fire company alone for good.
"The funding should be restored permanently, not temporarily," said resident Joseph Berardi.
City Councilman James Oddo, who represents the area Engine 161 serves, says the latest news did not surprise him, but said residents should not get too comfortable because it is likely closing fire companies will be a budget issue again soon:
"The only good thing to come out of this snowstorm saga is that this administration is afraid to take another public relations hit, and my guess is that [City Council Speaker Christine] Quinn and her staff shrewdly maximized the leverage to protect New Yorkers," said Oddo. "But this is a reprieve, don't kid yourself."
Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy said he is happy there will be no overnight closings, at least for now, but he said he is already gearing up for another fight over firefighter staffing.
Currently, a labor agreement calls for 60 engine companies around the city to be staffed with five firefighters at all times because of special challenges in those locations. That agreement is set to expire on January 31, and the city estimates it would save about $15 million a year by reducing the number to four.
Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano said he thinks it can be done without consulting the union.
Cassidy said that is not so, and he expected an arbitrator will have the final say on staffing.
"During the snowstorm, the New York City Fire Department put a fifth firefighter on all 200 engine companies. They made our case. They know that an extra firefighter, a fifth firefighter has a key impact on firefighter safety," said Cassidy.
Cassidy said he hopes staffing levels will remain unchanged as the issue is sorted out.
Meanwhile, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn did not connect the budget deal to the criticism the Bloomberg administration received over its handling of last week's blizzard. She said the council was able to avoid the unpopular cuts by coming up with other areas to save within the budget.
“We were able to change the cuts to the tune of about $35 million, to keep firehouses open, to keep care for seniors who are homebound, to keep HIV testing at the same level in New York,” said the council speaker. “We did that by identifying other areas in the budget where spending could be cut back or savings could be achieved.”
Top administration officials are set to testify at what's sure to be a contentious council hearing on the snow-cleanup on Monday. The administration may think that this budget agreement will serve as a carrot of sorts for the City Council, and could help smooth things over before the questioning gets underway.
NY1 asked Quinn on Thursday about the firing of the chief of the city's Emergency Medical Service Command. Quinn did not have much to say on the matter, other than emphasizing that at Monday's council hearing on the snow, she and others will be asking about the role different personnel and EMS staff played during the blizzard.