Maintaining Fire Coverage

Maintaining fire coverage for the City of New York on any given day is a challenge. Attention must be paid to what units are doing, where they're doing it, how long before they're available again, unit availability on a borough* wide basis, weather, traffic, and a myriad of other variables. (* NYC is comprised of 5 counties, New York, Kings, Queens, Bronx, and Richmond which we refer to as the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island respectively.)

To dispatch the entire city as one entity would be impossible. Even though FDNY is a single department covering a single city, each of the five boroughs has its own dispatch function responsible for units in that borough. This makes it easier for command and control of the 61 engines & 39 trucks in Brooklyn, 48 engines & 33 trucks in Queens, 44 engines & 33 trucks in Manhattan, 30 engines & 27 trucks in Bronx, and 18 engines & 12 trucks in Staten Island. Think of it as 5 separate cities with an extensive mutual aid policy.

Often, an incident will straddle two boroughs. Incidents on waterways, bridges, highways, or just regular streets where boroughs meet, can be handled by either side. Typically, whichever borough gets it first will take control. Inter-borough coordination is handled by a phone call between the supervising dispatchers of the boroughs involved. It sounds complicated but it really isn't, and it doesn't happen too frequently.

In a city with eight million inhabitants there are many cultural and ethnic celebrations that take place during the year. Additionally, there are parades in the Canyon of Heroes down Broadway, and holiday parades on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Each one of these events presents its own difficulties in maintaining fire coverage for the borough concerned. In most cases a single borough is involved and the rest of the city is relatively unaffected. But every year there's one event that binds all five boroughs in a 26.2 mile knot.

It began in 1970 with a mere 127 runners running around Central Park. Today, The New York City Marathon is the premier running event with over 50,000 entrants. Runners come from all over the world to take on the grueling 26.2 mile course that winds its way through all 5 boroughs -- cheered along by 2 million spectators that line the course.

The start line is the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Bridge -- a major interstate (I-278) that provides the only direct access to the rest of the city. Since the bridge must be closed to all traffic for several hours, additional units from Brooklyn are sent in to bolster up the resources. This way, should a fire or other emergency break out they're not depleted too rapidly. If it looks like more units will be necessary there are pre-plans in place that provide for Manhattan units to be brought in via the Staten Island ferry or through New Jersey.

In Brooklyn, the marathon route effectively cuts off the Bay Ridge and Industry City sections from the rest of the borough. For this area, units that have firehouses on 4th Avenue (the marathon route) are stationed on the west side of the route while units from elsewhere are moved in to close up the ranks and keep fire protection levels within acceptable limits.

Variations of this scenario play out in every borough where the marathon route cuts off access to resources. Since this requires coordination on a citywide level, the incident action plan (IAP) is created by headquarters and executed locally by each borough.

Other than repositioning our fire apparatus, the marathon isn't a big operational problem for us on the fire side of FDNY. But for FDNY EMS (Formerly known as NYC*EMS) it's a logistical and operational nightmare -- especially at the finish line.

Hundreds of medical professionals tend to thousands of strains, sprains, sore muscles, and a host of other medical issues. Most are not serious but just in case, a line of ambulances from all over the city stand by at the ready to transport the serious cases.

If you ever have cause to be in NYC for the first weekend of November, I suggest going to the route and watching the spectacle live. TV coverage doesn't do it justice.