City and state budget negotiations are underway, and once again the city is pitching the idea of reducing fire coverage across the five boroughs to save a few bucks.
There’s no doubt that maintaining a large Fire Department is very expensive, but the powers that be—from Mayor Bloomberg to the members of the City Council—should remember that the citizens of this metropolis deserve the best police and fire protection.
This is especially true in today’s terror-filled society. The failed Times Square bomber—and the potential damage he could have unleashed—immediately changed the city’s mind regarding cutbacks to the Police Department. But the plan to close up to 20 FDNY companies remains on the table.
Has everyone in city government forgotten 9/11? Among the thousands who perished at the World Trade Center that day were 343 firefighters. They ran in when everyone else was running out, and they helped save tens of thousands.
The uncertainty of what may happen tomorrow—and the knowledge that someone is planning to attack New York again—should give pause to any idea of decreasing the agencies that offer the first line of defense to the citizens of this city.
Back in the 1970s, long before terrorists came on the scene, cuts were made to the Fire Department. Engine and ladder companies were eliminated following an expensive and lengthy study by the Rand Corporation.
The results were the destruction of large portions of the city, most notably in Bushwick and the South Bronx. New York became the symbol of urban blight.
A subtle change, like cutting back on ladder companies, increased the danger to citizens of this city.
When a fire breaks out, the ladder company responds first to do search and rescue operations. The engine company is charged with putting water on the fire, but that cannot happen until the premises is searched to make sure nobody is trapped in the burning structure.
During the cuts in the 1970s, engine companies had to compete against each other for the duties of the ladder companies. The results were disastrous. Death and injuries to civilians and firefighters increased, and it took years for the city’s housing stock to recover from the devastation.
It is not hard to imagine that the same destruction will occur if the city loses 20 Fire Department companies.
There are 8,250,567 people in New York City covering an area of 322 square miles, with 11,213 firefighters in 221 firehouses ready, willing and able to protect them. The Fire Department is also responsible for inspecting buildings for fire code violations and responding to medical emergencies.
Undoubtedly, New York pays too much for everything, and the salaries and benefits paid to the members of the Fire Department are very generous.
But salaries and benefits are negotiable. The city cannot negotiate the number of lives lost if there are fewer fire companies to rescue New Yorkers.
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