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N.Y. lawmakers call on mayor to resist closing more firehouses

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The New York Sun

Armed with a report showing another increase in response times since six city firehouses were shuttered in 2003, three Democratic lawmakers of the Bronx yesterday called on Mayor Bloomberg to resist the idea of closing any more.

Joined by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and City Council Member Oliver Koppel, state Senator Jeff Klein released a report showing that the Fire Department’s average response to distress calls increased by six seconds in 2005, following an 11-second jump in 2004, the year after the firehouses were closed.

“It’s a no-brainer. You close firehouses, you’re going to get an increase in response times - not only in the affected community but in the borough and the city as a whole,” Mr. Klein said in a telephone interview yesterday.

The three held a news conference outside the Woodlawn Firehouse, where the unaddressed deterioration has lead many to think it will be one of the next stations to go.

The study suggested a correlation between firehouse closure and higher response times. In Manhattan, where Engine 36 in East Harlem was closed down in May 2003, the overall average response time increased by 10 seconds for structural fires and by nine seconds for medical emergencies between 2002 and 2004. In Queens, which lost Long Island City’s Engine Company 261, the average response time rose by five seconds for structural fires and by 16 seconds for medical emergencies.

In the seven months since the city opened the Rossville Firehouse on Staten Island, the average response time in that borough decreased by eight seconds.

Response times for nonstructural fires and nonfire emergencies contribute to the average response time, though structural fires and medical emergencies make up the bulk of it.

The lawmakers and community members urged the mayor to ensure that Ladder 39, the Woodlawn Firehouse, which faces the north side of Woodlawn Cemetery, not be closed.

Mr. Klein told The New York Sun he is worried the station might be shuttered because of the city’s inattention to its dilapidated condition. He said he questioned the mayor and the fire department about their plans for the firehouse, but they would not outline them.

Mayoral and Fire Department representatives could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

A retired firefighter who worked at the Woodlawn Firehouse for 25 years, Cornelius McGovern, said that because many of the homes nearby are wooden and sit close together, shorter response time is crucial to keep fires from spreading. Firefighters from the closest firehouses would not be able to reach fires quickly enough, said Mr. McGovern, who has lived in the neighborhood since he emigrated from Ireland in 1958.