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Thread: New Yorkers Protest Firehouse Closing

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    New Yorkers Protest Firehouse Closing

    New Yorkers Protest Firehouse Closing


    By RICHARD PYLE
    Associated Press Writer
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    NEW YORK- Neighbors locked elbows with politicians Sunday in an attempt to keep the city from closing one of its oldest firehouses.

    The demonstrators did not stop the shuttering of Engine Company 204 when the clock struck 9 a.m. The two-story, red brick firehouse was one of six shut down Sunday to help shrink the city's $3.8 billion deficit.

    City officials have justified the closings, expected to save $7 million a year, by saying population shifts have made the firehouses unnecessary, and emergency response times, measured in seconds, will not be slowed.

    "Unfortunately, we cannot afford everything," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Sunday at a Memorial Day parade in Queens. "It's the best compromise we can make."

    But protesters gathered at all the closed firehouses said the budget cuts were coming at the expense of people's safety.

    In Brooklyn, at Engine Company 204, police appeared caught by surprise when the firehouse's red, wooden door opened, and the demonstrators rushed inside.

    Twelve people were later arrested at 204 and eight at Engine 212, also in Brooklyn, said firefighter Robert Calise, a fire department spokesman. He said they were charged with criminal trespass and disorderly conduct.

    The crowd at 204 included Brooklyn-born "Fargo" actor and former city firefighter Steve Buscemi and Democratic state Rep. Joan Millman and City Councilman Bill de Blasio. All three were among those taken into custody, de Blasio's spokesman Alex Navarro said later.

    Buscemi, who worked as a firefighter from 1980 to 1984, called the closures "irresponsible" and "dangerous."

    "This is compromising the safety of all the communities where the firehouses are closing," he said.

    Opened in 1855, Engine 204's firehouse bears the letters "B.F.D. engine 4," from the late 18th century when Brooklyn was a separate city and horses that pulled the steam pumper were stabled across the street.

    "Closing of any firehouse is against any concept of safety," said Arthur Sunshine, 66, a retired schoolteacher who lives down the block. "These are the lifesavers of the community."

    On Sept. 11, 2001, Engine 204 was among several fire units in south Brooklyn that reached the World Trade Center in the first few minutes. Its truck was destroyed when the towers collapsed, but its crew survived.

    Engine 204's last run in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of century-old brownstone houses, family-run businesses and small factories came on Saturday - a call about a sick person.

    Many former members visited the firehouse in its final days to reminisce with colleagues transferring to other firehouses across the city.

    "I feel sad for the neighborhood," said firefighter Chris McCarthy, 28, who spent the past year at 204. "Someone's going to have to die before they realize they've made a mistake."


    Photo-- Actor Steve Buscemi, left, and City Council member Bill DiBlasio, right, are taken into custody while protesting the closing of Engine Company 204 Sunday, May 25, 2003 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. City officials have justified the closings by saying population shifts have made the firehouses unnecessary. (AP Photo/Ramin Talaie0

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    Closures spur fiery protests

    Closures spur fiery protests

    20 arrested as demonstrations get heated

    By NICOLE BODE, HELEN PETERSON and DAVE GOLDINER
    DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS


    The city officially wielded the ax on six fire companies yesterday in a budget-cutting move that sparked angry protests and 20 arrests and dealt a huge blow to firefighters' morale.

    From Harlem to Queens to Brooklyn, throngs of demonstrators tried in vain to prevent the biggest mass closing of firehouses since the 1970s fiscal crisis.

    "I feel like I'm losing all my brothers," said Mary Cubeta, 84, who has lived for 75 years next to Engine 204 on DeGraw St. in Cobble Hill - one of four Brooklyn fire companies to close. "It's really a shame."

    A dozen people, including actor Steve Buscemi, locked arms and burst into the 148-year-old firehouse, locking in firefighters for three hours.

    Cops dragged the protesters out in handcuffs and a crowd of hundreds cheered as Buscemi held up a photo of Sept. 11 hero Firefighter Dave Fontana.

    The "Ghost World" star - a former city firefighter - ridiculed the city's claim that the closings would mean no more than an extra minute in emergency response time.

    "If your house was on fire, would you wait one minute to call the Fire Department?" he asked.

    Firefighters agreed that the cost-saving measures would cost lives. "It's a silly thing, to put a price on someone's life," said Firefighter John Daly, 32, of Engine 36 in Harlem.

    But Mayor Bloomberg, who is battling a mammoth budget gap, insisted no one would be endangered by the closings.

    "It would be great if we could have a firehouse on every block but that's not practical," he said. "I know some people are upset, but it's the best compromise we can make, given the reality of the real world."

    All get transfers

    Bloomberg noted no firefighters have been laid off and that three of the six firehouses will close entirely. The moves will save about $8 million a year.

    "We're not losing any firefighters. We're just transferring the firefighters," he said.

    The firehouses that closed entirely yesterday are Engine 204, Engine 36 and Engine 212 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

    Engine 261 in Long Island City, Queens; Engine 269 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and Engine 209 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, will close, but other fire units still will be based in those firehouses.

    After months of squabbling by politicians, firefighters and various groups, the big red doors were supposed to slam down for good at 9 a.m. yesterday - after the end of the fire companies' overnight shifts.

    But protesters gathered in a last-ditch effort to block the long-awaited closures.

    A few miles away from the Cobble Hill firehouse, a similar scene unfolded in Williamsburg, where a jostling crowd used wooden doors and slabs to keep open the doors of Engine 212.

    The protesters, many of them veterans of a 1970s battle that eventually forced the city to keep the firehouse open, vowed to dog Bloomberg if he does not reverse the decision.

    "This is going to be a nightmare for him," said Diane Jackanin, 49, as cops arrested eight demonstrators.

    In Harlem, doomed Engine 36 was counting down to its closure - until an emergency call at 8:45 a.m. sent the firefighters scrambling into action.

    The company on E. 125th St. helped a heart attack victim, then returned to the firehouse to find it blockaded by a few dozen chanting protesters.

    Later, the firefighters unfurled a banner the company made that hung for months over the wreckage of Ground Zero. It read, "We Will Never Forget."

    'Reality set in'

    Firefighters, like many community activists, hoped the city would somehow find a way to reopen the fire companies.

    "Today, reality set in," said Battalion Chief John Pappa, 45, of Engine 261 in Long Island City, where neighbors also demonstrated against the closing.

    Firefighter John Carroll said it was like a funeral inside Engine 269 as the company scattered for the last time yesterday. "Picture your family breaking apart and you all have to move to different places," said Carroll, 24.

    At Engine 209 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Firefighter Dave Duignan said his heart ached for the neighborhood.

    "Half my life, this has been my home," said Duignan, 47, who spent 24 years at the company. "I'm still going to have a paycheck, but these people won't have the protection."

    On July 2, 1977, the city closed 26 fire companies on the same day, but most of those later reopened.

    With Robin Haas



    Originally published on May 26, 2003



    http://www.nydailynews.com/front/sto...8p-79239c.html

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    Some Firehouses Go Quietly; Others Draw Cries of Protest

    Some Firehouses Go Quietly; Others Draw Cries of Protest
    By COREY KILGANNON


    At Engine Company 204 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, the police used two vans to cart away 12 protesters who had invaded the firehouse to keep it alive. At Engine Company 212 in Williamsburg, protesters rushed in and jammed pieces of lumber to prop open the door. One man chained himself to the bumper of the fire truck, and others sat down in front of it. Eight people were arrested.

    After months of debate and legal battles, the city closed six fire companies yesterday in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Several of the closings went smoothly, although bitterness and sadness lingered outside the buildings' front doors. But confrontations in Harlem and Brooklyn exposed emotions so raw that their intensity surprised the police officers and fire officials on hand to keep order on the overcast Sunday morning.

    The six companies

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    Firehouse Closings Spark Rage, Protests, Arrests

    Firehouse Closings Spark Rage, Protests, Arrests

    By William Murphy
    STAFF WRITER; Simone Weichselbaum and Glenn Thrush contributed to this story.

    May 26, 2003, 10:57 AM EDT


    Deemed too costly to save, six Fire Department units, including three firehouses, were closed by the city yesterday despite a flurry of 11th-hour protests and arrests.

    Critics predicted a slip in fire safety in the affected neighborhoods; Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the cash-strapped city would save $6 million a year by having nearby units pick up the slack.

    "A lot of firehouses were sited 100 years ago, and the communities have moved ... so we're just trying to move our resources around," the mayor said at a Memorial Day parade in Forest Hills. "It would be great if we could have a firehouse on every block. That's not practical."

    The mood ranged from anger to sadness as firehouses were closed for the first time in the city since 1991, when the Dinkins administration targeted a Ridgewood base, which was reopened three years later by the Giuliani administration.

    The three firehouses forced to lock their doors were on Whyte Street in Greenpoint, DeGraw Street in Cobble Hill and on East 125th Street in Harlem. The fire companies eliminated were in the Dutch Kills section near the East River in Queens, and Bedford Stuyvesant and Sunset Park in Brooklyn.

    More than 50 residents rallied in defense of the Cobble Hill firehouse. A dozen formed a human chain and occupied the building for more than an hour before they were arrested on charges of criminal trespass and disorderly conduct. Among those taken into custody were Councilman Bill DeBlasio and Assemb. Joan Millman, both of them Brooklyn Democrats. The Fire Department said eight others were arrested on similar charges outside the Greenpoint firehouse. Five fire marshals were slightly injured making the arrests at both sites, the department said.

    The budget ax landed on the six units simultaneously, at 9 a.m. More than 100 firefighters working in these units were reassigned to other sites.

    Capt. Brian O'Neill conducted his last roll call at Engine Co. 261 in Dutch Kills just before the deadline.

    "Dress right! Dress!" O'Neill called out to 20 firefighters. The firefighters looked to the right, extended their right hands to the shoulders of the next firefighters and made sure they were lined up neatly.

    At each of the targeted sites, the firefighters and their commanders went through a similar plaintive drill, shutting down not only a neighborhood institution but also a second family.

    In Dutch Kills, O'Neill called the roll and the firefighters answered. Deputy Chief John Acerno stood to one side of the firehouse as area residents looked on helplessly. The chief took the captain's salute and disbanded the company, which was created in 1824.

    "God will always be with you," Acerno told the firefighters, who will report for their next shifts at other commands around the city.

    For O'Neill, it was the end of a shift, the end of a day and the end of a career. After 24 years on the job, he's retiring next week, a move planned before the closings.

    This was a day when even some officers agreed with the protesters. Acerno applauded as demonstrators decried the elimination of the unit in Dutch Kills. He stood just inside the opened door; elected officials and community leaders were just outside.

    "They're wonderful. We have a very good relationship here," said retiree Vincent Hermida, 74, who was standing on the stoop of his house across the street on 29th Street.

    He said his four children grew up knowing they could run into the firehouse at any time and play on the big rigs.

    "My children spent a lot of time at that firehouse," he said.

    Outside the Dutch Kills unit, Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Woodside) told a small group of neighborhood residents that he planned to personally argue the lawsuit against the closings Wednesday in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

    "Don't ever forget what he's done to you today," Gioia said, referring to Bloomberg's decision to close the six firefighting units.

    Last week, two units, in Ridgewood and Bushwick, won reprieves from City Hall, with the mayor saying that he found just enough money to keep them open after the state legislature approved a new budget.

    Simone Weichselbaum and Glenn Thrush contributed to this story.
    Copyright

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    An Empty, Angry Feeling

    An Empty, Angry Feeling

    By Simone Weichselbaum
    Simone Weichselbaum is a freelance writer.

    May 26, 2003


    A vacant brick building is all that's left of Engine 36 on East 125th Street in Harlem - shut down as of 9 a.m. yesterday, a casualty of the mayor's budget ax.

    In the grayness of a Sunday afternoon, the usual bustling of firefighters who make up the 103-year-old engine company slowed, and firemen gathered at the curb, packing their belongings into their cars.

    "I have been here for 24 years and I am leaving behind a family," said Bill, a firefighter who gave only his first name.

    Although the 23 firefighters are losing a firehouse to which they have an emotional attachment, they will not be losing their jobs. They will be spread among other FDNY sites around the city.

    Bill, for example, will be relocated to Marine Company 9, a fireboat division near his Staten Island home. More convenient for him, no doubt, yet he said that eliminating six fire companies and closing three firehouses is not worth the savings.

    "I just feel it is a stupid move on his part, all just for peanuts," Bill said. He added sarcastically, "Plus, it is a good weekend to close it, with this heightened terror alert."

    Barbara Britton, a garden designer from West 77th Street, asked the few firemen packing their cars if there was anything she could do to help save the firehouse. The answer was no.

    "They said it was over," Britton said. "I still feel that there is still hope and I want to keep trying."

    A ladder company around the corner and other firehouses in the area are expected to pick up the slack, but the firefighters said that was not practical and FDNY protection for Harlem residents will slip.

    "It is a somber day for the people who live up here, and we were highly dedicated and highly motivated to serving them," one fireman said as he placed his duffel bags in the back of a station wagon. "Bloomberg didn't close the one where he lives. But they close the one in Harlem."

    Copyright

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