In a letter sent to Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley May 8, the FDNY announced the engine company would close for good on July 1. The closing is one of 16 intended to cut the Fire Department budget and help reduce the city deficit.
"The FDNY, like all city agencies, has been called upon to do its part to reduce costs," FDNY Deputy Fire Commissioner Daniel Shacknai wrote in the letter. "While making these decisions has not been easy, we make them in the context of historically low civilian fire fatalities and the fastest citywide response times since 2002."
Shacknai said the Fire Department used three criteria - response times in Engine 271's coverage area, amount of structural fires ins the same area, and secondary response times - in choosing to close the engine company, which serves sections of Brooklyn and Queens. He said despite the closing the Fire Department would "continue to provide the highest level of service to the communities we serve, as we have throughout our history."
Elected officials like Elizabeth Crowley, who vowed to fight the closing but failed ultimately to convince the FDNY against them, reacted angrily to the news.
"The closing of engine 271 and the fifteen other proposed firehouses cuts and the elimination of EMS ambulance tours will severely jeopardize civilian lives in Queens and Brooklyn," Crowley said in a statement. "It is outrageous that the FDNY jeopardizes the people's safety due to their fiscal irresponsibility."
First, the city announced the nighttime closing of Engine Company 271, which went into effect in December of last year. The FDNY announced it would close the entire engine company in February. The closing must be approved by the city.
In recent years, Engine Company 271 has responded to approximately 2,550 alarms annually, according to statistics provided by the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA). At a February 23rd public meeting, Queens Borough Command's Deputy Assistant Chief, John Sudnik, admitted if Engine 271 closes, response times in its coverage area would increase by 20 seconds, to 3:40. UFA officials have said delays this long could increase fire fatalities.
In a May 11th phone interview, Sudnik said the FDNY decided the closing of Engine Company 271 was preferable to closing other engine companies with fewer surrounding engine companies.
"It was determined [closing Engine Company 271] would have been less of an impact than other alternatives," Sudnik said.
Four other engine companies still serve northeastern Brooklyn and western Queens, where Engine Company 271 operates. The FDNY is the country's busiest fire department, but spends less on firehouses and emergency services than seventeen other American cities, according to the UFA.
Crowley said the closing of Engine Company 271 - which serves the area's remaining open hospitals as a first responder for medical problems - would further strain emergency health services.
"With the recent closings of St. John's, Mary Immaculate, and Parkway hospitals, emergency response is already stretched far too thin," Crowley said. "A heart attack victim only has five minutes - who will save them? Without 271, who will save them?"
At the City Hall rally, other officials spoke out against the proposed citywide fire department cuts that would close facilities in Brooklyn and Queens. “We all understand that tough times require sacrifice, but we cannot have ifs, ands, or buts when it comes to public safety,” said Council Member James Vacca.
Battalion Chief John J. McDonnell, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA), said if the proposed cuts- the second in five years- go through, they would be the worst in decades.
“If the Mayor is successful in shrinking the Fire Department again, the result will be longer response times that put lives and property at unacceptable levels of risk,” McDonnell said. The latest round of cuts represent “the most severe attack on the FDNY since the 1970s ― the days when the Bronx and the rest of the City were burning.”