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In interview, fire union chief warns of dining sheds’ dangers, says they all need safety inspection

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | One argument that some make against yielding any ground — or rather street — on Open Restaurants is that the dining sheds are safer and a better use of space than parking, or “car storage,” as some prefer to deride it nowadays.

But, in an interview with The Village Sun, the head of the city’s firefighters union, Andrew Ansbro, painted a sobering view of the roadway sheds and how, in some cases, they can deter firefighters from properly doing their jobs.

The city’s Department of Transportation recently announced that the sheds would be phased out next year. At least until then, though, the contentious structures apparently will continue to flood Downtown’s streets.

Ansbro, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York, recently issued a statement warning how the sheds are potentially “endangering” New Yorkers by narrowing certain streets.

In talking to The Village Sun, he expanded on his thoughts about the hotly debated program. He said that neighborhoods like “the Village, Little Italy, Chinatown” are definitely facing safety issues as a result of the pandemic ramshackle structures.

“Absolutely,” he said, “[it’s a safety issue in] any neighborhood with narrow streets. Once you’re down to a one-lane street… . Two-lane streets might be O.K.

“No one expected they’d be up here this long,” he said of the sheds.

A long, ubroken row of shed structures, as in this spot on the west side of Petrosino Square in the Soho/Little Italy area, could impede fire trucks’ ability to battle building blazes, Andrew Ansbro warns. (Photo by The Village Sun)

He said the worst cases involve narrow streets with sheds on both sides of the roadway — where “you can’t even open the doors” of a fire truck. Also a major problem, he said, are long rows of the structures blocking access to fire hydrants or not allowing even a small gap of space for fire trucks to put out stabilizers that are needed when raising fire ladders or bucket ladders.

“The engine has to be positioned over a fire hydrant,” he explained. “The hose has to go from the back of the truck to the front. Some of these things [sheds] are extra-long, 80 feet.

“Where there’s a [fire truck] ladder, the hydraulic stabilizers require about 6 feet of clearance on the side.” Without the ability to deploy the stabilizers, he said, “The apparatus has the ability to topple over.”

A hyrdaulic stabilizer, at left, was deployed by a ladder truck responding to an apartment fire on E. 39th Street last week. The “outrigger” devices are needed to keep fire trucks from toppling over when their ladders are extended. (Photo by The Village Sun)

The stabilizers can be extended in the gaps between parked cars, allowing a fire truck to pull in closer to the building than if it was blocked from doing so by a solid wall of sheds. At the very least, the stabilizers need to be deployed on only the truck’s “fire side,” as in, the side nearer to the fire. The drivers can skillfully position the vehicles to deploy the stabilizers at just the right spot.

“A car may be 15 feet long and there’s a gap between cars,” Ansbro explained. “Our chauffers are expert at putting the stabilizers in there. They’re trained where to stop. They only need one-and-a-half feet of space. If it’s a 25-foot-long shed, it shouldn’t be an issue. When you have 150 feet of them with no gaps, it becomes a problem.”

Also, even if the street itself is wide enough to allow the stabilizers — also known as “tormentors” or outriggers — to be deployed, if a truck can’t get in close enough to the building due to the sheds, the vehicle might not be able to raise its ladder high enough to reach the building’s upper floors.

As Ansbro put it, “There were certain windows that were in reach that are no longer in reach. You may have taken an extra floor out [due to the sheds]. It probably will not impede the ability to put the ladder up, but might impede the range of the ladder.”

Obviously, that puts residents living above a certain floor at risk.

A bucket ladder truck from a Hell’s Kitchen firehouse used a stabilizer while responding to the Murray Hill fire. (Photo by The Village Sun)

In addition, he said of the sheds, “They’re usually wider than a parked car,” which also potentially keeps the fire trucks farther away from buildings.

In short, Ansbro, who is still also an active firefighter, said a thorough Fire Department inspection of all the city’s 12,000-plus sheds scattered throughout the five boroughs must be done to ensure New Yorkers’ safety.

“It was one of those things where they were going to be temporary,” he said of Open Restaurants. “But they need to be looked at, each and every one of them, on how it can affect fire operations. I think each one of these structures needs to be evaluated. I think a structure-by-structure evaluation.”

Obviously, checking out all the sheds for fire safety is a major undertaking. But it’s one that must be done, Ansbro stressed.

“It may be 12,000 [sheds to inspect], but behind each one of them there’s a building,” he said.

Another complicating factor is the outdoor dining program’s impact on parking, which is sometimes making it harder for fire trucks to get through.

“Because of all the parking it’s taking up,” Ansbro said of the sheds, “sometimes you have people parking where they shouldn’t and double-parking, causing problems.”

The dining “yurts” themselves are a fire hazard if they have gas tanks in them, though people would be able to escape quickly, he said.

“If they do go on fire,” he said of the sheds, “it’s not a major fire.”

Fire Department ladder trucks need space to extend their stablizers to keep them from toppling over. This particular stretch of street did not have any roadway dining sheds that could have hampered the firefighters’ response. (Photo by The Village Sun)

There is also a concern about the huts impacting snow clearance, the union president said.

“That’s the major reason for the streets to get plowed,” he noted, “so we can get there faster, for Fire, Police and E.M.S. to get through.”

Ansbro said he has brought all these points up in management meetings with the city.

Two of Downtown’s local city councilmembers, at least, Erik Bottcher and Christopher Marte, have stressed that a “one size fits all” Open Restaurants program is not fair to their districts, which have areas with narrow streets and an abundance of bars and restaurants.

However, Downtown’s other councilmember, Carlina Rivera, so far has not responded to The Village Sun’s questions on whether she, too, supports a more neighborhood-sensitive approach to Open Restaurants. Community Board 3, which includes the East Village and Lower East Side, covering much of Rivera’s district, is on record stating its multiple concerns over making Open Restaurants permanent as a one-size-fits-all program.

“All the Downtown community boards don’t like it,” Susan Stetzer, the C.B. 3 district manager, said of Open Restaurants.

Ansbro, for one, is on the same page with Marte, Bottcher and the local community boards on the issue.

“I don’t think it’s prudent to have a blanket acceptance of all the existing structures without a thorough review,” the union chief stressed of the thousands of sheds.

A 21-year New York Fire Department member, in addition to being the union president, Ansbro is a marine engineer assigned to the fireboat 343 based at Gansevoort Peninsula, on the waterfront just west of the Meatpacking District.

21 Comments

  1. LES3025 LES3025 February 16, 2022

    Did you ask him why he doesn’t speak out similarly forcefully about the rampant obstruction of fire hydrants by cars, especially cars engaged in placard abuse?

    • DirectTruth DirectTruth February 16, 2022

      Or why he didn’t speak about arsonists? What about? What about? What about? LES3025 you reason like a Trumper, and it’s not sound.

      • LES3025 LES3025 February 16, 2022

        If someone charged with fire safety is coming out against a relatively minor fire hazard and ignoring a more major and systemic fire hazard, it’s fair to question their motives! This isn’t hard to grasp. Pretty reasonable to assume that what he actually cares about is protecting the free parking spaces for his suburban constituency. That’s why I asked if Lincoln asked him about it (Ansbro would lie, of course, but it would be good to put the question to him with the readily available evidence of his disregard for blocked hydrants).

        Also lol at Trumper. The responses I get from libs on here is really something.

        • Al Wen Al Wen February 17, 2022

          @LES3025, The responses you get here from libs aren’t surprising bc your what-aboutism is a hallmark of Trumper diversionary tactics.
          Why can’t we agree that anything that blocks a fire hydrant is bad? And why are you a better arbiter of what is and isn’t a minor / medium / major fire hazard than a 21-year member of the FDNY?
          Also why not evaluate the merits of what Ansbro is saying, instead of attributing everything he says to his overwhelming addiction to placard abuse? His concerns seem quite sensible.

          • LES3025 LES3025 February 17, 2022

            If you all think I am conservative you have severely misjudged the politics here.

            But anyway, of course anything blocking a hydrant is bad. Any shed that is should be torn down. In a permanent, regulated program, they will be. But 99% of them aren’t and, for the 1% that are, the FDNY could easily get them torn down tomorrow if they wanted to. Yet Ansbro isn’t trying to fix the problem sheds today or help develop the regulations for tomorrow. Instead, he’s lending his support to an effort to shut them all down and using fire safety as a cover. It’s transparently nonsense. So I am evaluating the merits of what he’s saying (and not saying) and it’s hardly whataboutism or deflection.

            On top of that, Ansbro is a Rockland County resident who almost certainly drives to and parks in the city every day, just as the majority of firefighters he represents do. He quite obviously has an interest in the parking situation.

            Keep in mind Ansbro is the union head. He’s a conservative politician at this point, not a firefighter. Taking him at his word is the same at taking Pat Lynch at his on police issues. No reasonable person should do it.

        • JQ LLC JQ LLC February 25, 2022

          Had no idea wood and plexiglass wasn’t flammable. And the last time I checked, FDNY does put out fires at buildings on streets with cars because not everybody is an asshole. And at least you can move your car.

          Don’t you have luxury public housing towers to praise on NY YIMBY listing posts?

    • ------m ------m February 17, 2022

      once again you have proven yourself to be a moronic half-wit……. get over yourself, troll….

  2. DirectTruth DirectTruth February 16, 2022

    A huge change like this may be great or it may be horrible. One thing is SO clear; an ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STUDY should be performed for such an overhaul of the streetscape. And, btw NO other city in America has made a decision on whether outdoor dining will be permanent or not. What’s the rush? It couldn’t be money and power changing hands that is fueling the urgency of this legislation. Ya think?

  3. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street February 17, 2022

    LES3025, if you think the currant wall-to-wall sheds are a “relatively minor fire hazard” and do not present a serious threat to human life during a fire, YOU ARE CLUELESS AND IGNORANT. You have probably never witnessed a building engulfed in flames. Every second counts and don’t give me your favorite parked cars complaint. Firemen, hoses and equipment can fit in between cars but they don’t have time to tear down sheds.
    And to even contemplate accusing the head of the Firefighters Union of caring about more about his and NYC firefighters parking their cars than caring about saving lives is despicable. You really need to see someone about your fixation with parked cars.

    • LES3025 LES3025 February 17, 2022

      For what its worth, I watched Beth Hamedrash Hagadol burn five years ago and could smell the smoke from the apartment I lived in at the time. No sheds back then but it burned just the same. I also saw the fire at 303 Grand in September 2020. There are sheds in that stretch of Grand but FDNY seemed to get to it just fine.

      I also saw video of firetrucks unable to get past a double-parked car on East 11th just a few days ago (https://twitter.com/Choresh2/status/1491225329012469768). 30 firemen weren’t able to do anything to get around a car. I am sure that is a much more common obstruction than sheds, but for some reason Ansbro isn’t talking about that.

      If the sheds are such a big problem, surely there must be data showing it since the sheds went up. Slower response times? More firefighters deployed because more fires get out of hand? Catalogs of instances where sheds obstructed firefighters? Citations issued for blocking hydrants? Something? Anything? All I see is rhetoric.

      As for impugning Ansbro’s motives, do you believe Pat Lynch when he talks about policing?

      • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | February 17, 2022

        Ansbro actually DID say another problem is that the sheds are causing people to park in unusual spots and double-park, which is another thing that can impact firefighters’ ability to respond to blazes.

        • LES3025 LES3025 February 17, 2022

          Sounds like the problem there is the people double parking. Drivers have agency. They can choose not to double park just because there is a shed in their preferred spot.

          • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | February 17, 2022

            Hmm…so maybe then the problem actually… ISN’T Ansbro after all. … And arounnnnddd we go in circles.

          • LES3025 LES3025 February 17, 2022

            Come on, Lincoln, you’re smarter than this. My whole point was that Ansbro is overplaying fire safety concerns regarding sheds because of ulterior motives regarding the sheds and parking. The fact that he apparently only mentioned double-parking as a concern in the context of sheds makes my point, not contradicts it.

  4. Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street February 19, 2022

    LES3025 – I can’t believe you really think Ansbro is more concerned with car parking than the danger of wall-to-wall no access to a burning building. Did you even read the long list of problems the sheds present to firefighters? You need to take off your anti-car blinders.

    • LES3025 LES3025 February 20, 2022

      I think I’ve been clear in my comments as to why I believe that. You can engage with what I’ve said or you can blindly believe the union head, who’s a regular guest on Fox News and Newsmax. Your choice.

      • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | February 20, 2022

        Talk about “off topic.” Is it about car parking or his political views now??? Which one is it?

        • LES3025 LES3025 February 20, 2022

          Views on car parking are political views and people who regularly go on Fox News and Newsmax tend to be dishonest. I don’t know what is so confusing about this.

          • The Village Sun The Village Sun Post author | February 20, 2022

            OK, trying to hang with you here, follow your line of argument… So the head of the firefighters union, because he is most likely — no, most definitely — a liar since he has appeared on Fox News, is lying when he says he is concerned about fire safety and the dining sheds. Instead, his real, hidden motive is to preserve parking spots for firefighters on narrow Downtown streets like Cornelia and MacDougal and Ludlow, that are overcrowded with dining sheds. When he says he is concerned that fire ladders won’t reach upper floors in some cases due to the sheds, that concern is, in fact, just a lie?

          • LES3025 LES3025 February 20, 2022

            I feel like you’re being purposefully obtuse at this point. Ansbro is out here opposing Open Restaurants by claiming that sheds are a fire hazard. But he isn’t talking about the much more common fire hazards of blocked hydrants, double parking, or blocked fire lanes. So it stands to reason that he’s speaking out about sheds not because its a top priority fire safety issue, but for some other reason. Given that sheds take away parking and Ansbro is a Rockland County resident who drives to the city and represents thousands of non-resident FDNY firefighters who also drive to the city, it seems reasonable to think that what he actually cares about is parking. Sure, this involves some degree of informed speculation, but I’m not a journalist who gets the chance to interview Ansbro, so I’m not in a position to confront him on it and get a more clear answer.

            Rather than engage in the argument I made as to why I don’t trust Ansbro, Carol decided to appeal to authority and say that obviously the FDNY union head is shooting straight about fire safety. In response to that, I pointed out that Ansbro appears on Fox News and Newsmax. If you think Fox News and Newsmax, and the people who appear on them, are honest people acting in good faith, I don’t really know what to tell you.

  5. Seniorofficer Seniorofficer September 15, 2022

    When Ansboro wprks on the Marine unit, there is off-street parking. When Ansboro works at the union office on E 23rd St/. there is off-street parkling. The majority of firehouses in all five boroughs for the most part have off-street parking; and those that dont have designated on-street parking identified by signs on poles installed by the D.O.T.

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