Neighbors Renew Attacks on One of City's Busiest Ambulance Stations

By Mathew Katz on February 10, 2014 6:30am 

 A group of neighbors wants EMS Station 7 to move, saying it creates noxious fumes and too much noise.
A group of neighbors wants EMS Station 7 to move, saying it creates noxious fumes and too much noise.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

CHELSEA — A group of West Chelsea residents wants a life-saving ambulance station next to their luxe apartments to go somewhere else — and now they've got political support.

Newly elected City Councilman Corey Johnson and Community Board 4 are urging the FDNY to move EMS Station 7, an ambulance depot below the High Line on West 23rd Street, after nearby residents complained that the station's loud sirens and idling vehicles made it hard to enjoy their terraces.

The station is the among the city's busiest, according to FDNY statistics, with four of the top five most active EMS units in the city operating out of it. 

Johnson told concerned residents at a recent CB4 meeting that he would work with the FDNY to try to get them to move the station.

"I think they're unlikely to want to move, but I think we can still push them to do the right thing because it's not the right spot for an EMS station," Johnson said.

FDNY officials say the station is essential to the area's safety. EMTs and paramedics from the station, which covers a huge chunk of the west side of Manhattan, responded to more than 80,000 calls since the station opened in 2011, including patients suffering cardiac arrests and people with life-threatening injuries, according to FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer.

"It's the only station we have on the West Side of Manhattan from the southern tip all the way up to Harlem," Dwyer said. "This station is absolutely critical to our operations, especially in the past several years when you've had the [St. Vincent's] hospital closure."

The residents recently ramped up their efforts to move the station by hiring Richard Bass, an urban planner with Herrick, a law firm, to lobby local officials including Johnson.

"We believe there are viable alternative sites that don't impact peoples' lives, either the people next to the site and the people being saved by the EMS," Bass said.

The FDNY set up the 3,656-square-foot station in November 2011 to provide the West Side with much-needed emergency services after St. Vincent's Hospital and its own ambulance station closed in 2010.

When the FDNY applied for a zoning change in 2012 that would allow the city to operate the station on a long-term basis, tenants in the high-priced neighboring buildings spoke out against the plan.

Bass said the problems of noise and exhaust persisted over the past two years after the zoning change was approved, along with a host of new problems.

"There was a barbecue at the EMS facility and people thought their buildings were on fire," Bass said. "In Manhattan, how many places do you smell barbecue? It has day-to-day impacts on the residents."

He added that there's a danger of pedestrians being struck by ambulances as they back out of the station, since it's right next to the West 23rd Street entrance to the High Line.

The FDNY, however, argued that the station allows workers to more easily replenish medical supplies and clean ambulances after each trip. Otherwise, rescue workers would have to travel to Bellevue Hospital's facility after each run, taking the ambulance out of commission for longer periods of time each day.

Fire officials said that the High Line site was the most suitable for an ambulance station, but Bass said that the department should put together a formal, exhaustive search to find a more appropriate one.

In a letter urging Johnson to work toward moving the site elsewhere, CB4 officials wrote that along with the noise and pollution from ambulances, the site violates zoning regulations and that staff there illegally park private vehicles on nearby streets.

"MCB4 believes that alternative sites do exist in our community, and that many commercial developers would welcome the opportunity to work with the City of New York in finding a new location for this very important facility," the board wrote in its letter.

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