Financial crisis prompts FDNY cutbacks

The Associated Press 

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NEW YORK — Fewer firefighters will be hired, training will be reduced and four companies will be closed overnight due to the city's financial crisis, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said Thursday.

"It's no secret we're facing very hard economic times," Mr. Scoppetta said at a news conference. The FDNY is trying to trim $60 million from its budget as the city faces a multibillion dollar shortfall in the coming years.

As part of the measure, the nation's largest fire department will close four companies overnight that cover areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island.

The companies were chosen after fire officials studied proximity to other fire companies, street locations and geographic obstacles, as well as the overall number of responses to fires and other emergencies at night.

Fire officials said communities should not fear they will be in danger because of the closures and invited questions from residents in affected areas. Officials said trucks from other companies could still get to emergencies in time because overnight traffic is light.

"Our goal, first and foremost, is to minimize any impact these reductions could have on our ability to continue protecting and serving all New Yorkers," Mr. Scoppetta said.

Uniformed Firefighters Association president Steve Cassidy said closing companies compromises public safety and noted that more fatalities happen at night than at any other time. "In this post 9-11 world the FDNY's expanded responsibilities to protect New Yorkers can not be accomplished by service reductions," Mr. Cassidy said.

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Under the new policy, which goes into effect Jan. 17, the companies affected will be closed at 6 p.m. and reopen the next morning at 9 a.m. The move affects about 18 firefighters and five officers who will be shifted to work in other areas.

In addition, a unit on sparsely inhabited Governor's Island in New York Bay will be shuttered, with crews staffing public events such as concerts. No companies that serve residents will be shuttered, Mr. Scoppetta said.

In addition to the closures, which are expected to save about $8.9 million, the FDNY is reducing the length of probationary firefighters' training school from 23 weeks to 18 weeks. That measure should save $6 million.

Also, the department is hiring only 100 probationary firefighters for the January class instead of 300 — the lowest number since before the Sept. 11 attacks, officials said. According to the fire department, the average response time to a structural fire is 4 minutes and 13 seconds, the lowest in seven years.

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