Firefighters are our first line of defense against fire and medical emergencies, and they address life and death situations every single day. Fires can happen at anytime, regardless of where you live or how much money you make. And the fires over the past week demonstrate that even our current level of protection is sometimes not enough.
However, 62 fire companies are currently in jeopardy of closing. To understand why, here is a quick background of last year’s proposed fire company closings and a breakdown of the Bloomberg Administration’s current preliminary budget proposal. Last year, 16 companies were slated to close and would have closed if not for City Council discretionary dollars, which restored them for that fiscal year. This year, those 16 are up on the chopping block again, along with an additional four companies. Furthermore, the state’s budget allocation to the city, in light of Governor Paterson’s proposed $1.3 billion cut, will determine the fate of another 42 fire companies. Do the math: that is 62 potential fire company closings.
These proposed budget cuts come at a time when our fire services respond to a number of incidents that shatter all previous records. In 1970, the FDNY responded to 261,655 total incidents. In contrast, the FDNY responded to 473,024 total incidents in 2009. Fire companies are strategically positioned to respond to an emergency within three to four minutes. In addition to fires, these companies respond to a whole spectrum of emergencies, such as medical emergencies, carbon monoxide leaks, elevator problems, water outbursts, and gas explosion. Let’s be clear: emergencies don’t care about budgets.
Furthermore, due to textiles and various chemicals used today, fires are growing hotter and becoming more vicious than ever before. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in today’s environment it takes a fire less than one minute to go from ignition to more than 2,000 degrees. Simply put, fires grow exponentially every second.
As elected leaders, we should not shift the costs from the city to our citizens. When it comes to the safety of New Yorkers, we must deliver. I urge New Yorkers to organize with me and make sure Mayor Mike Bloomberg knows our safety needs. Contact the mayor and make your voices heard loud and clear: keep our fire companies open!
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley chairs the City Council's Fire and Criminal Justice Committee.