June 1, 2014 Opinion: By John O’Reilly
The New York City Fire Department wants to combine multiple existing fire truck, light vehicles, truck and car parts, equipment and constructive storage, and administrative facilities into one location in Sunnyside at 39-34 43rd Street (between Skillman and Barnett Avenues, next to the handball courts in Lodati Park).
Community Board 2 will conduct a public hearing on the FDNY’s proposal at its next meeting on June 5th and is expected to vote that night on whether to approve the plan.
CB 2 must vote against approval of the FDNY’s proposal.
The proposed facility will not be used as a firehouse or a location for other emergency responders such as ambulances. The FDNY’s plan is to place on the lower level of the building and large parking lot an average total of 100 “spare and reserve” old fire apparatus consisting of engine/squad company trucks, tower ladder trucks, rear-mount ladder trucks, tractor-drawn aerial “tiller” trucks, and rescue company vehicles which are dispatched every day around the clock as needed “to replace front-line fire apparatus in fire stations which are out-of-service due to mechanical reasons or accidents, taken off-line for scheduled preventive maintenance checks, or placed into service to enhance the Department’s emergency response capabilities during special events or natural/ man-made disasters.”
The FDNY also wants to locate at the proposed 43rd Street facility an additional unspecified number of “reserve fleet” older vehicles to provide a “safety net” for the Department’s fire apparatus inventory. These fire trucks will not only be dispatched around the clock daily as needed to firehouses throughout the City, the trucks will also travel to and from the Department’s truck repair and maintenance shop located at 48-67 34th Street in Long Island City.
The FDNY also wants to locate at the proposed 43rd Street facility an unspecified number of Fire Department apparatus which have been involved in accidents and are being stored pending litigation and other fire apparatus which are pending decommission.
In addition to the more than 100 big, heavy diesel fueled trucks, the FDNY wants to move to the 43rd Street facility the Motor Vehicle Operator unit which is responsible for moving an unspecified number of light-duty vehicles (e.g., sedans, ambulances, suburbans, etc.) between a vehicle storage yard located at 50-02 55th Avenue in Maspeth, the small vehicle repair facility located at 30-03 Review Avenue and to/from Fire Department facilities citywide.
There’s more. The FDNY wants to use the 43rd Street facility as a storage site for a variety of tools, equipment and materials (e.g., tires, tire chains, truck and car motors, truck and car transmissions, appliances, cement blocks, construction materials, etc.) in support of Fire Department operations. In addition, the FDNY wants to locate administrative offices related to its fleet services and maintenance operations and facilities management at the 43rd Street location.
All the FDNY activities planned to be put on 43rd Street are currently performed elsewhere. The “spare and reserve” fire trucks are currently located at a facility on Paidge Avenue in Greenpoint, close to the Newtown Creek. This location experienced severe flooding during Hurricane Sandy, and only quick action by Department personnel saved the approximately 100 trucks from being destroyed.
When the City identified the 43rd Street building lower level and parking lot as a location not prone to flooding, the FDNY formulated plans to move not only the Paidge Avenue operations, but also to move the “decommissioned and accident” fire apparatus from the Duane Reade lot on 46th Street in Maspeth and the Motor Vehicle Operator Unit currently temporarily located at the Review Avenue repair shop.
The Motor Vehicle Operator Unit was formerly at the Department’s small vehicle repair shop located at 55-30 58th Street until December 2013 when the City sold the building and the function was temporarily relocated to the Review Avenue site. Tools, equipment and materials are currently stored in the repair shops and moving these items out to 43rd Street will create more room for repair work. The FDNY believes relocating related administrative offices to the proposed 43rd Street site will provide better management, efficiency and savings.
The facility application made by the FDNY does not state the level of activity on the grounds of the 43rd Street facility and surrounding area directly resulting from moving trucks, vehicles, truck and car parts, equipment and materials to and from the repair facilities and fire stations all over the City.
The FDNY does discuss the level of activity resulting from employees assigned to 43rd Street going to and from work throughout the 24 hour, 365 work days and concludes that it is not significant enough to warrant study, analysis or amelioration.
However, the numbers of employees who will be assigned to work at 43rd Street suggest that a substantial level of truck and vehicle movement activity will be taking place in and about the grounds. Sixty fire officers and fire fighters will be assigned to work at the 43rd Street facility, over the course of a 24 hour day, seven days per week. Twenty civilian employees will work over two shifts spanning the hours of 6:30 AM to 10:00 PM, seven days a week, for purposes of moving FDNY light-duty vehicles.
While proponents of the FDNY plan will tell you that the 43rd Street facility will be used for “dead” storage, it is incredible that sixty fire officers/firefighters and 20 civilian employees would be assigned to work seven days a week, around the clock at a location used only to house vehicles in “dead” storage.
The FDNY in its papers seeking CB 2 approval of the plan provides no data about the movement of diesel fueled heavy trucks and other vehicles on the grounds of or in and out of the 43rd Street facility. Surely, given the long history of performing this activity, the FDNY must have some idea of department truck and vehicle movement, and some basis for assigning 80 people to work at the location to provide vehicle movement and storage activity seven days a week.
In ignoring activity directly related to the primary reason the FDNY wants to acquire the 43rd Street facility, the FDNY’s papers state nothing about the impact these operations will have on area traffic, air quality and noise. Data, analysis and evaluation/amelioration of the negative impact on these important quality of life measures is required by the process for review of the FDNY’s proposed facility acquisition.
Perhaps most troubling is the FDNY’s statement that the proposed 43rd Street facility will have no impact on the children’s playground at Lodati Park. The FDNY makes clear that a major reason it wants to acquire the 43rd Street facility is the large outdoor lot that it can use for the 100 or so diesel fueled fire engines, ladder trucks, etc., comprising the “spare and reserve” fleet which are dispatched 24 hours a day, seven days a week as needed to fire stations throughout the City and the repair shop locations.
The truck area is adjacent to and a short distance down the hill from the children’s playground with nothing except an open, chain link fence between the two locations. Historical weather data shows that 28% of the time the wind blows, it comes from the north, northeast and/or northwest direction. Thus, diesel truck emissions launched into the air will be carried often directly into the children’s playground area. This situation is reason enough by itself for CB 2 to deny approval of the FDNY application.
Given the topography and wind conditions, there’s a reasonable belief that the air (and noise) pollution will carry to the game boards and sitting area near to the park house, the dog park area, the open black top field, the apartment buildings located on the south side of Skillman, and to nearby side streets across from Lodati Park.
The only mention of the impact of FDNY vehicle movement on the area near to the 43rd Street is an oral statement by the Department’s representative at the CB 2 Land Use Committee meeting on May 21st that Department vehicles would travel only in the direction to and from Northern Blvd along 43rd Street from the proposed facility. This representation is not made in any of the written documents submitted to CB 2. Regardless, nothing is said about how this condition will be enforced.
It’s hard to believe a police officer will ticket the operator of a Fire Department vehicle for traveling toward Skillman Avenue. Heck, the Police Department won’t enforce adopted laws prohibiting e-bikes and regulating commercial bicycles; does anyone really believe a Fire Department truck will get a ticket for driving the “wrong way” on 43rd Street? Even if only traveling to and from Northern Blvd is followed, it only relates to a small part of the problems associated with the proposal.
Residents of 43rd Street and nearby streets are unfortunately too familiar with day and night, seven day a week frequent movement of diesel fueled heavy equipment courtesy of the never ending East Side Access project. Should Sunnyside residents have to tolerate more heavy truck activity, day and night, seven days a week?
The FDNY’s proposal is silent about vehicle movement and impact on traffic, air quality and noise resulting from activities other than vehicle location planned for the 43rd Street facility, generated by the truck and vehicle parts activities, storage of equipment and building materials and the administrative office functions.
In addition, the FDNY in its proposals points out that the 43rd Street facility is desirable because it provides room for expansion to enlarge functions performed there and possible relocation of additional support activities. The FDNY’s proposal points out that the Department’s fleet has grown by 17% since 2001 which means that the number of vehicles held as spare and reserve will have to grow to provide adequate number of replacements. Again, the impact of growth at the 43rd Street facility is not mentioned.
Significantly, the FDNY proposal does not address the requirement of the City Charter that agencies in deciding on location of facilities account for the fair distribution of the burdens and benefits associated with the location of City facilities consistent with the community’s needs for services and the efficient and cost effective delivery of services, with due regard for the social and economic impact of the facility on the area surrounding the site.
In addition to the negative impacts outlined previously bearing directly on the fair share obligation, the FDNY proposal does not satisfy the specific City Charter requirement, “To promote the fair geographic distribution of facilities, the [City] agency should examine the distribution among the boroughs of existing and proposed facilities, both City and non-City, that provide similar services, in addition to the availability of appropriately zoned sites.”
Prior to this proposal, the neighborhoods covered by CB 2 were home to most of the FDNY vehicle storage and repair facilities. The proposal for the 43rd Street facility will bring additional vehicle storage and repair activity from outside the CB 2 area to within the CB 2 neighborhoods so that almost all of the FDNY vehicle storage and repair activity will be within CB 2 (only three small satellite shops on Randall’s Island, Coney Island and Staten Island will not be within CB 2).
The FDNY proposal is silent about any efforts undertaken to locate the proposed facility outside CB 2 nor does the Department explain why in the years since Hurricane Sandy the need for a replacement facility for the flooded Greenpoint site was not included in the two annual Citywide Statement of Needs reports as required by the City Charter, which is designed to facilitate application of the fair share burden.
Everyone holds the Fire Department in high regard for the service it provides to residents. That admiration must not be the basis for CB 2 to ignore the requirements of the City Charter. CB 2 members should act in the best interests of residents of Sunnyside, consistent with the provisions of the City Charter, and therefore deny approval of the FDNY’s proposal for the 43rd Street facility.
(these are the opinions of John O’Reilly, not the Sunnysidepost)