Elected officials, community leaders and union representatives rallied in Dutch Kills on Friday, calling on the city to reopen Engine Company 261.
The fire company was closed in 2003 under the Bloomberg administration, which argued that the site was underused. As part of a budget deal, the city then closed Engine Company 261 and five other fire companies.
With the residential and commercial population boom in Long Island City, community leaders now want the city to reopen the firehouse.
“Anytime you close a firehouse or reduce services from the Fire Department, you risk lives,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. “It should’ve never been closed.”
According to the councilman, closing the firehouse translated to longer response times for local residents. He cited the devastating fire in London earlier this month, where nearly 80 people were trapped and died, as an example of the importance of increased fire services.
“There are towers growing all over this community,” he said. “We need to make sure people are safe and their lives can be saved in the event of a fire.”
George Stamatiades, president of the Dutch Kills Civic Association, said the organization fought the city more than a decade ago to keep the firehouse open.
“They came here in the middle of the night to steal this 261 engine from us, telling us that there wasn’t enough need for it,” he said. “We invite them now to come back in the daylight, look around and bring that engine company back to Dutch Kills.”
Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan also fired off several letters to City Hall asking officials to examine response times and the possibility of reopening the firehouse. In May 2016, FDNY officials said they were “conducting a dedicated analysis to identify areas within the city that have high population growth and may need additional resource coverage in the future.”
“Reopening Engine Company 261 would be a step in the right direction in providing additional services which would increase the safety and security of the growing population in our community,” Nolan said in a statement.
State Senator Michael Gianaris urged the city to be proactive, rather than respond after the loss of a life or an injury.
“I don’t want to be sitting here after there’s a fire nearby, after one of the new residents experiences a loss of a life or injury, because we didn’t have this engine company reopened in the heart of this neighborhood when we needed it,” he said.
Union officials also made the case for reopening the firehouse. Gerard Fitzgerald, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said Engine 261 responded to thousands of runs annually. When it closed, nearby firehouses had to pick up their runs.
“That means they’re working harder, they’re responding to more runs,” he said. “That means their availability is not as much as it was.
“In my opinion, this is a common sense issue. it’s simple math,” Fitzgerald added. “Population goes up, safety has to go up. We need this firehouse reopened.”