Woodhaven Rallies For Engine Co.

By Michael J. Woods
Staff Writer

March 15, 2003, 6:04 PM EST

Engine Company 293 has been a welcome part of Woodhaven since 1915, and 200 concerned residents of that Queens neighborhood gathered Saturday to protest the planned closing next month of the firehouse.

The single engine company is one of eight firefighting units set to be eliminated in order to save the deficit-plagued city $12 million annually.

But shutting the firehouse at 89-40 87th St. would have dire consequences, as other companies in Ozone Park and Richmond Hill would be forced to pick up the slack, elected officials and residents said.

"You can't put dollars and cents and equate that with the cost of lives," said City Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), who led the rally in front of the two-story, brick firehouse. "There will be a definite negative effect in response times in the area."

Vinny Sasso, 76, has lived in Woodhaven, which has many wood-frame homes and businesses, for 43 years.

"If the house beside me goes up, no way mine won't go up too," he said from the microphone in front of the firehouse. "There are a lot of old people and kids living here."

Firefighter Andy O'Connell, 38, has worked out of Engine Company 293 as a "Woodhaven Wildcat" for 13 years. He said an early-morning blaze three weeks ago in a two-story building at 86th Street and 91st Avenue could have been tragic had the Wildcats not been first on the scene.

Four people were saved by personnel from Ladder Companies 142 in Ozone Park and 143 in Richmond Hill, he said.

"Another [first responder] company would have arrived several minutes later and possibly those four people would be dead," O'Connell said.

He stressed that his concern is not so much for himself, because all firefighters from closed units will be transferred to other assignments, but for Woodhaven residents.

The Queens trustee of the Uniformed Firefighters Associations, Thomas DaParma, made a stark claim: "When they do close it, people will die."

Joe Lentini, 55, who brought his son and daughter to the rally, has lived in Woodhaven for eight years.

"If there's a fire, my house is eighty-five years old," Lentini said. "That'll go up real fast."

Lentini, who is vice president of the parents association at nearby MS 137 on 98th Street, watched as his son Anthony, 11, took the microphone and spoke against the proposed closure.

Lentini said he keeps close tabs on the children, trying to make sure they don't play with anything flammable, such as matches.

"Me and my wife Cynthia are watching them constantly," he said of Anthony and daughter Destiny, 5, "but if this station closes it will be extra added pressure."

Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) suggested that money given to candidates under the city's current campaign finance program should be redirected to help close the budget gap without sacrificing public safety.

"You must write the mayor and the City Council," he told demonstrators. "Our community deserves this firehouse to be open."