Firefighters are warning that lives could be at risk in New York’s $25 billion megadevelopment

Vessel, a 150-foot-tall art installation at New York City's new Hudson Yards development.

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Vessel, a 150-foot-tall art installation at New York City’s new Hudson Yards development.
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Business Insider/Jessica Tyler

  • New York City firefighters are worried they don’t have enough capacity to serve Hudson Yards, a $25 billion, 18-million-square-foot megadevelopment that opens Friday.
  • By 2024, when the development is scheduled to be complete, it could have more than 125,000 daily residents, visitors, and office workers.
  • Unless the city builds a new fire station in the neighborhood, these lives could be at stake, the president of New York’s firefighters union told Business Insider.

New York’s largest private real-estate development, the 18-million-square-foot Hudson Yards, can expect a flood of locals, tourists, and office workers at its grand opening on Friday.

For the first time, members of the public will be able to climb aboard Vessel, a 150-foot-tall honeycomb-shaped art installation in the public square; dine at the complex’s high-end restaurants, including Momofuku and D&D London; and browse its luxury retail stores.

Read more: New York’s $25 billion megadevelopment can withstand a superstorm or terrorist attack – even if the entire city shuts down

As the excitement mounts, the city’s firefighters have issued a sobering warning: Firefighters don’t enough capacity to serve the Manhattan development, and residents’ lives could be put in danger as a result.

In 2018, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association – the union representing New York City firefighters – sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio in which he expressed concerns about increased traffic and safety emergencies near Hudson Yards.

Mayor Bill de Blasio at the Hudson Yards site in 2016.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio at the Hudson Yards site in 2016.
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In his letter, Gerard Fitzgerald said the lack of a fire station endangered the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. His department, he wrote, was already “stretched thin” trying to serve the surrounding area near the Eastern and Western Rail Yards, which includes neighborhoods like Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.

De Blasio never responded to the letter, but Fitzgerald’s request received support from his fire department. A spokesperson for the mayor said keeping New Yorkers safe is his top priority.

“We’re always evaluating resources, demands, and response times and, with an eye toward the future, we will continue to do that in Hudson Yards,” the spokesperson told Business Insider.

If the city is unwilling to build a new station, Fitzgerald said, it should at least equip stations near Hudson Yards with an additional firefighter for each engine.

“If they started today, it would probably take the better part of two years to get the firehouse built up and running,” he told Business Insider.

By 2024, when Hudson Yards is scheduled to be completed, it is expected to have more than 125,000 daily residents, visitors, and office workers. This increased pedestrian activity could amplify fire-department requests.

“More people, more emergencies,” Fitzgerald said. “If we’re out the door more often, that means there’s less availability” to answer calls.

A penthouse at 15 Hudson Yards, one of that sites the president of New York's firefighters union says could see a lagging emergency response.

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A penthouse at 15 Hudson Yards, one of that sites the president of New York’s firefighters union says could see a lagging emergency response.
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Katie Warren/Business Insider

More people also means more congestion in major transit corridors like the Holland Tunnel to the south, the Lincoln Tunnel to the north, and Penn Station to the east. Of particular concern, he said, is service to 15 Hudson Yards, an 88-story residential tower with nearly 400 housing units.

“If there’s a fire up there, you’re on the water. Wind is a concern,” he said, adding that extra firefighters were needed “to save or protect lives.”

Hudson Yards’ developers, meanwhile, have gone to great lengths to protect the site from terrorist attacks such as active shooters or truck bombs.

But one of the site’s developers, Related Companies, said the decision to install a fire station rested with the city and its fire department.

“We don’t control the siting of firehouses,” the company told Business Insider, adding that it had been working closely with Commissioner Daniel Nigro of the New York City Fire Department and his team “and appreciate their intense involvement in analyzing what additional resources and procedures may be needed.”

At this point, Fitzgerald said, a new firehouse may arise only if lives are lost.

“That’s going to be the way that the city is going to pay attention,” he said, “if the fire deaths go up.”