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Response Time


I do not claim to be an expert on balancing municipality budgets, nor am I an expert on fire operations.  Unfortunately , however, I am an expert of sorts at being the victim of house fires. 

On Father's Day, 1984, I was at my parents home in Merrick during summer break from college when a fire broke out at 4 AM.  It took the Merrick volunteer fire department 11 minutes to respond.  After the fire was extinguished, the home and all of its contents were gone, and much more tragically a life was lost.  A helpless and hopeless 11 minutes waiting with my mother and father, a decorated FDNY Lieutenant, that I would not wish upon anyone.  11 minutes. 

On January 23rd of this year tragedy struck again when a fire broke out in the basement of my home on Nassau Blvd.  Upon seeing the smoke my wife immediately called the Garden City Fire Department.  With memories of 1984 I attempted to extinguish the basement fire but was quickly overcome with smoke inhalation.  Moving quickly to the main floor of the house, where the fire had already progressed, I was immediately greeted by professional Firefighter Mike Morgan.  Firefighter Morgan evacuated my wife and 2 children and began the process to extinguish the fire.  My wife's call was received at 9:35 PM, the GC Fire Department arrived at 9:38 PM.  In 3 minutes time the fire had already made its way to the 2nd floor where it was finally extinguished by a team led by Lieutenant Lou Mira, a professional firefighter.   3 minutes.   I know better than most what a fire can do in "minutes".  The experts will tell you that when it comes to response time and a house fire, "4" is the magic number.  4 minutes. 

Fortunately for my family,  unlike my experience in 1984, due to the quick response time the fire was contained to a den wall and a master bedroom wall on the second floor.  Most importantly no one was seriously injured.  Lt Mira and his team of professional and volunteer firefighters worked hurriedly, smartly and meticulously, securing my family while limiting property damage.  Lt Mira knew that with balloon structure framing, like many of our old homes in Garden City, the fire moves quickly vertically to the attic then spreads out rapidly horizontally. 

For obvious reasons, I am opposed to the cuts to the number of professional GC firefighters along with the possibility of station closures.  The Board of Trustees approved the cuts by a 6 to 2 vote. The cost savings for these cuts will be approximately $100 per GC family per year.  I shared my views in front of the BOT in a crowded village hall before their vote on February 7th.  My main concern was around response time and the critical 4 minutes. The cuts will effect our professional firefighters and specifically the night crew.  It was extremely disturbing that not one of the 6 BOT members who voted in favor of the cuts could explain to our residents how response time at night would be impacted.  Not one.  Was public safety considered in their analysis? Was it all about the $100 per family? Or, is there something else more political in nature at work?  GC residents deserve to know.  We are entitled to a more public discussion, along with a more detailed explanation...response time saves lives and property, take it from someone who knows all too well.  All too well. 

John Leto 
GCRes1 February 12, 2013 at 10:32 AM
This is an interesting and sad story. But it doesn't shed any light whatsoever on the actual debate, which is the effort to right-size and properly fund the paid fire department versus the desire to maintain a suitable firefighting force that can quickly respond to the very few actual fire emergencies we experience in the Village. Should the board of trustees continue to communicate with residents about what impact (if any) layoffs will have on response times? Sure. From what I have heard from the Chief and the BOT, these layoffs, the changes to the response matrix, closing of outside houses at night, switch to central dispatching and other changes will have negligible impact on fire response, but significant impact on the budget (the layoffs alone will save over $900k annually). Obviously, those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo (paid firefighters and their allies) are up in arms. But outside of emotional appeals like the above, I haven't seen any FACTS that lead me to believe the decisions of the trustees have caused any diminution in fire service. Considering the barrage of appeals like this one to emotion, it's a brave stand that they have taken.

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