Will Snowmageddon attack one more time?
With New York City still recovering from a blizzard that immobilized the five boroughs, the Bloomberg administration said it was ready for another blast of snow Friday that could dump up to five inches on the city and its suburbs.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg promised what appeared to be a blizzard-level attack with salt spreaders, plows monitored by GPS and employees with cameras streaming live feeds of street conditions to City Hall.
With the storm crawling into the New York region early Friday, New York City Transit had activated its highest-level winter preparation. That plan, for forecasts of five inches or more, calls for more workers to prepare de-icing trains and diesel locomotives, and it was not put into place until after the snow fell Dec. 26, which critics said set the stage for the transit problems after the blizzard. To accommodate the latest emergency measures, some express trains may make local stops in the early part of the Friday morning rush.
This time, said Thomas F. Prendergast, president of New York City Transit, “we want to make sure we do it right.”
The Bloomberg administration has been roundly criticized for a slow response to the storm that dumped at least 20 inches of snow on the city on Dec. 26 and 27. Some streets remained unplowed for days, many ambulances could not reach patients and people could not get to work.
Compounding the challenge now faced by the city, mounds of trash bags remained piled up curbside around the five boroughs on Thursday, 10 days after the storm. The sanitation commissioner, John J. Doherty, speaking at a news conference with the mayor, said all people in the city would have had their garbage collected at least once by the end of Thursday night.
But residents accustomed to two or three pickups a week have continued to place their garbage out. If the Sanitation Department can clear the roads quickly, the regular garbage collection schedule will resume on Saturday. Otherwise, the mayor said, it will resume “hopefully by next week.”
Mr. Bloomberg has ordered an inquiry into allegations that sanitation workers deliberately slowed their response to the blizzard protest budget cuts, though he has not asserted that they did so. The City Council was also preparing to hold hearings on the response.
As a new poll indicated his approval ratings had dropped below 40 percent, Mr. Bloomberg was at times testy but also contrite. He said that sanitation workers would be retrained and that Brooklyn sanitation districts, where some of the worst problems occurred, would be reconfigured to improve trash collection and snow removal.
This week, in response to the handling of the blizzardhe city demoted the Emergency Medical Services chief, and on Thursday reassigned two sanitation supervisors. The personnel moves occurred in southern Brooklyn, where Joseph Montgomery, an assistant chief, was reassigned to cleaning operations and Joseph Susol, a deputy chief, was also reassigned.
“I think the fair statement to say is we did not know where all of our trucks were, we did not know how many stuck cars and buses there were, we did not have the kind of information we needed to respond,” Mr. Bloomberg said. But he also pointed at the Fire Department’s E.M.S., which runs the city’s ambulances.
“The technology worked,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “It was when they then were directed to E.M.S., E.M.S. just could not keep up with the demands. Police Department basically did. Fire Department basically did.”
The most prominent move so far was the demotion of John Peruggia, the E.M.S. commander. Mr. Bloomberg said he personally decided on Wednesday to demote Mr. Peruggia.
Pressed to explain why, Mr. Bloomberg said it was time for a “new guy,” adding, “We did not give the public the service that the public has a right to expect when it came to ambulances, and it starts with the management.”
Following protocol, many ambulances tried to get as close as they could to patients, rather than park farther away on plowed streets, and 170 got stuck in snow. One paramedic who declined to be named, citing the threat of punishment from supervisors, said there seemed to be no special rules for the storm, other than being asked to work double shifts. They even responded to a call of hiccups, he said.
The mayor’s singling out of E.M.S. drew an irate response from Patrick Bahnken, president of the paramedics’ union, and skepticism from Thomas Von Essen, a former fire commissioner.
Mr. Bahnken said, “The audacity to imply that the E.M.T.’s, the paramedics and the emergency medical dispatch personnel were in any way, shape or form responsible for the overwhelming and logistical failures that occurred because of this blizzard is an outrage.”
Mr. Von Essen, a fire commissioner in the Giuliani administration, also defended the performance of Mr. Peruggia and E.M.S.
“He’s an excellent guy who’s been doing this a long time under very difficult circumstances in a department that is being treated as a second-class agency,” Mr. Von Essen said.
Mr. Peruggia, who would not comment, rose through the ranks and was at the twin towers on 9/11, managing to warn others that the buildings could collapse. Mr. Peruggia, who has diabetes, was also told he had nerve palsy, which affected his vision and caused him to miss work for a few weeks last year.
Mr. Bahnken said that during the storm, Mr. Peruggia had been “out in the field, pulling ambulances out of snow, shoveling out ambulances side by side with my members, responding to patient calls with my members, providing patient care.”
Peter F. Vallone Jr. of Queens, chairman of the City Council’s public safety committee, said the personnel moves seemed part of a broader strategy to “take people out of their comfort zones” as part of continuing investigations. “It certainly can’t make things any worse,” he said.
But State Senator Tony Avella, Democrat of Queens, said Mr. Bloomberg seemed to be diverting attention from the missteps of his own administration.
“I still want to know what failed rather than shifting around personnel to make it look like he’s making real changes,” Mr. Avella said.
According to a NY1-Marist Poll of New York City, only 37 percent of voters had a positive view of the job the mayor was doing, his lowest approval rating in a Marist Poll since he took office in 2002. The poll was conducted on Jan. 5 with 439 registered voters. Only one-fifth of the voters approved of the mayor’s handling of the storm; 7 in 10 disapproved.
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