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Firefighters speak out against budget cuts at Liu meeting

The ongoing war of words between the Bloomberg administration and the city’s firefighters unions continued last week after officials from the office of city Comptroller John Liu presented the city’s proposed 2010 budget plan for Queens to the public at LaGuardia Community College.

Part of the proposed budget includes a more than $11.6 million cut to the Queens Fire Department Engine and Ladder Company division budget. As a result, the FDNY plans to do away with its policy of five firefighters manned to a fire engine, instead operating with only four.

The department is also expected to close 25 firehouses citywide, which is dangerous and unacceptable, according to Marty Stedman, spokesman for the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

“Our position is you can’t cut safety,” he said. “What we’re saying is you can’t cut 25 fire companies. That’s not acceptable. You’re not going to cut your police force, but you’re going to cut your fire force? The mayor already restored 100 million [dollars] for the NYPD so he doesn’t have to cut any police officers. What we’re saying is make that restoration for the fire officers.”

But Liu said Mayor Michael Bloomberg is doing what he can to prioritize safety while balancing the budget in hard economic times.

“Despite the hovering cloud of uncertainty caused by an overdue state budget, the mayor has put forth a balanced budget to close the city’s budget gap,” he said. “Recent events re-emphasized public safety as a priority, and the mayor is doing the right thing in not further reducing the police force, which is already at its lowest head count in years. Further efforts should also be made to minimize teacher layoffs amidst rising class sizes and the dismantling of fire companies while New York City remains the No. 1 target for terror.”

Tom Butler, spokesman for the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said any reduction in fire house manning will mean an unnecessary loss of life.

“Significant lives will be lost,” he said. “If the Fire Department was to come out and announce a fire company two towns away from where a citizen lives is going to close, that person should not breathe a sigh of relief and say, ‘Wow. It’s not in my neighborhood.’ When one gets pulled out of the grid, it weakens the entire chain.”

Butler, Stedman and City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) have been campaigning across the city, championing the cause and necessity of fire fighters ever since the original proposed budget was announced weeks ago.

Butler said they understand cuts must be made somewhere, but the Fire Department should not be where one starts, although neither he nor Crowley’s office proposed an alternative plan.

“That’s not our roll,” he said. “This is an extremely challenging budget, but you don’t cut first-responder service when you need it most, when terrorists have proven once again that New York City is the No. 1 terror target in the world.”

Liu’s office said the cuts are necessary.

“New Yorkers hate budget cuts, but they hate waste in government even more,” he said, “from the bloated CityTime project — of which the money already budgeted could actually be used to build more classrooms, keep firehouses running, add more cops to the beat and ensure better care for our seniors — to the Economic Development Corp.’s hoarding of $125 million owed to the city .... Working with the mayor, we will continue to seek additional savings through audits and contract reviews to improve the efficiency in city agencies and ensure that each and every dollar available is maximized.”

Reach Reporter Chauncey Alcorn by e-mail at calcorn@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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