Four civil servants sat uncomfortably in city council chambers Monday afternoon to undergo a grilling from several council members, including Karen Koslowitz, D-Forest Hills, with regard to the city’s response to the Dec. 26 blizzard.
, which blocked streets for days in parts of Queens and Brooklyn, has been a point of contention between city residents and the mayor’s office since it occurred.
Prior to the hearing, Koslowitz said she was anxious to get answers from people like Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty and Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, and Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Bruno among others.
“The phone [in my office] was off the hook, it was off the hook with people who didn’t have food in the house. Seniors who couldn’t get out of the house,” Koslowitz said in advance of the hearing on Sunday. “I know the next day I called everyone back to make sure they were OK.”
Koslowitz also said in an interview that she would refuse to accept any answer from emergency officials that suggested that the size and scope of the storm was too large for the city to adequately handle.
Once the hearing began, Koslowitz wondered why the city's emergency management coordinators didn't use the city's Community Emergency Reponse Teams and local volunteer ambulance corps.
"We have, in our communities, what we call CERT teams ... and we have volunteer ambulances throughout our communities. Were they called upon during this emergency, and in what capacity were they called upon?" she asked.
Bruno responded by saying that the CERT teams were called in in the storm's aftermath to help clean up fire hydrants, to improve the city's fire response times.
Representatives of the Office of Emergency Managment said
FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano followed up the ambulance question, by saying that the city's fire department did, in fact, request help from local ambulance corps.
"We put out a call for mutual aid very early on," Cassano said. "The private volunteer ambulances weren't able to help us, we got a couple later on Wednesday, to participate in the mutual aid. But we put a call out right away, we needed help, we asked them to help us. They couldn't get to us."
Councilman Dan Halloran, R-Bayside, who has repeatedly raised questions about a purported deliberate slowdown by city sanitation workers, seemed deeply incensed by the response.
“We had a test run in September, it was the tornado that ran through our streets,” Halloran said, before launching into an indictment of the response then as well as now. “In that time, logistical confusion, interagency coordination, inaccurate data and reporting, 911 and 311 overloads… were all issues we raised — back in September.”
The city will hold individual hearings in each borough for local residents to voice their concerns about the recent snow removal issues.