Once Again, Ready to Race to the Firehouse's Rescue

In the 1970's, the people of Williamsburg took over the firehouse of Engine Company 212 for 16 months, eating and sleeping there and holding vigil in an eventually successful effort to keep it open. Their sit-in came after hordes of people marched through the streets and once even shut down the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Today they are promising to go at it all over again. With Engine 212 one of eight firehouses the Bloomberg administration says are underused and should be closed to save money, about $10.8 million in total, veterans of the 70's protests said they had no choice.

"I have my cane and I am ready," said Albina Jackanin, 78, one of the original protesters.

A rally is in the works for April 19 that organizers hope will mushroom into a citywide protest. Separately, members of the New York City Council are preparing a lawsuit to block the closings, a move that is described as "arbitrary and capricious" in a memo circulating among council members.

Never mind that the city has laid off dozens of employees to date and that thousands more will lose their jobs in the coming months. It is the closing of the firehouses that has struck a nerve, galvanizing neighborhoods and leading people to take to the streets.

Part of it is fear and real concern that fires will go unfought or lifesaving efforts will be delayed. But part is history, tradition and the unique relationship between New Yorkers and their firehouses.

"The firehouse is really woven into New York's communities," said Terry Golway, author of a history of the Fire Department, "So Others Might Live." "And there is a long history behind that that dates back to days when neighborhood residents would go back to the firehouse and drink chowder with the firefighters. That bond has never been broken."

Mr. Golway and other experts say New Yorkers take comfort in knowing that firefighters are just minutes away.The firefighters, in turn, are elevated to almost mythic status, the experts said, as many a New York mayor has learned.

Particularly since Sept. 11, 2001, when 343 firefighters died in the World Trade Center attack, the closing of firehouses has been an emotional issue.

But even before then, politicians have had to delicately weigh what they saw as inefficiencies in the department against the political risk and psychic cost of taking a budget ax to firehouses. Those recent mayors who dared to chop