Jan. 17, 2019 By Nathaly Pesantez
The Fire Department of New York is anticipating that Amazon’s arrival in Long Island City will further strain services in the rapidly growing neighborhood, and is considering opening a shuttered engine company in the area among possible resource boosts in response.
FDNY officials spoke to Long Island City’s explosive growth and Amazon’s upcoming campus at a City Council hearing on Monday that examined the impact of new development to emergency services in the neighborhood.
The hearing follows a December rally held at Dutch Kills’ Ladder 116, where elected officials and local leaders called for Engine Company 261, co-housed at the site until it was decommissioned in 2003, to be reinstated in light of Long Island City’s building boom.
Calls had already been made for years to reopen the engine company, with efforts renewed after HQ2 news broke.
FDNY officials attested to Long Island City’s growing emergency response needs at the Monday hearing.
“We were already in the process of considering whether additional resources were necessary due to the recent growth of the area when Amazon made their announcement,” said John Sudnik, the FDNY’s acting chief of department at the hearing.
Community Board 1, covering parts of Astoria and Long Island City north of Sunnyside Yard and the Queensboro Bridge, saw a 19 percent increase in calls for all incident types between 2014 and 2018, Sudnick said. Response times to all calls during the four-year period also went up by 9 percent.
Sudnik said the Queens community board, where Engine Company 261 had once been located, ranks highest in level of need for any location in the borough.
The FDNY did not respond to LIC Post’s questions about the data as it appears for Community Board 2, where most of Long Island City’s explosive growth has taken place and home to Amazon’s new campus.
Officials, however, told the Wall Street Journal that FDNY calls were up 16 percent in the same four-year time frame within Community Board 2, and that response times rose 4 percent.
Long Island City fire companies are also tasked with responding to emergencies on Roosevelt Island, yet another factor adding to the strain.
The FDNY, to address the neighborhood’s needs, added a basic life support unit to the area in 2018 to respond to EMS incidents, and also added tactical response units.
“We can anticipate with confidence that the growth in daytime population brought on by Amazon will lead to a greater number of incidents,” Sudnik said.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who has repeatedly called for Engine Company 261 on 29th Street to reopen and was present during the hearing, pressed officials on why the Dutch Kills company remains closed.
“We had years to get this right, but now that Amazon has been announced, you almost couldn’t see this engine company not being reopened,” he said.
The council member also pointed to the Community Board 1 FDNY statistics as a “screaming argument” for the reopening of the engine company.
Officials said reopening the engine company, closed during the Bloomberg administration, comes at a cost of roughly $4 million.
The site would also require $1.2 million in facilities work, including an expansion to bathroom facilities and officers quarters, to fit the two companies.
The FDNY explained that the firehouse, which easily accommodated the two companies before the 2003 decommission, had actually seen a downsizing in facilities, too, after the shutdown for budget reasons.
Despite a clear need for additional resources in Long Island City, officials at the hearing were tight-lipped on why more actions hadn’t been taken on the subject. Several council members at the hearing, however, pointed to the chain of command.
“It is incumbent upon the mayor, who cut the Amazon deal, to make sure that the resources are provided to the fire department to be in a position to save lives,” Van Bramer said.
While the FDNY was not involved in any discussions leading to the Amazon announcement, Sudnick said the company is now working with the agency, the Department of City Planning, and others on the matter.
“I think the data is favorable for certainly taking a close look at additional resources in the area,” Sudnik said. “That’s what we’re doing, and I think that’s the reason why we’re here. I’m confident the conversations are happening at the right levels.”