Noisy Protest for Firehouse Chases Mayor From a Party

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg went to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, yesterday to celebrate the 100th birthday of a neighborhood institution: the Williamsburg Bridge.

When he got there, though, he found himself booed and heckled by a dozen demonstrators noisily protesting his recent decision to close an even older neighborhood institution: Engine Company 212, a firehouse on Wythe Avenue.

"Save our firehouses, save our firehouses!" the small but forceful group chanted.

For the most part, the demonstrators waited until the mayor's role in the proceedings honoring the bridge was over. But then, as Mr. Bloomberg left the temporary stage at the foot of the bridge and made his way over to a 10-foot-tall cake that was decorated to resemble the bridge, they erupted in yells and screams and swarmed around him.

The mayor persevered, posing for pictures in front of the cake. Then, as the protesters drew nearer and grew louder, the mayor decided he had had enough. "O.K., that's it, we're going to get out of here," he said.

The mayor and his entourage walked a few hundred yards to his car, hounded every step of the way by the screaming protesters. Some held up crumpled $1 and $20 bills, telling him to find the money to reopen Engine 212 and five other fire companies closed last month in a cost-cutting move. Then the mayor got into his sport utility vehicle and rode over the bridge to Manhattan.

"We got a warm reception, other than a few people that are obviously very upset, and that's part of the job," said a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, Edward Skyler. "The mayor understands that. He doesn't take it personally."

The closing of Engine Company 212 struck a particularly raw nerve. The company, which is more than 100 years old, was scheduled to be shut during the fiscal crisis of 1975. That was met with angry protests, and a sit-in that lasted more than a year. Finally the city relented, and ever since, it has been known as "The People's Firehouse."

Yesterday's was a well-organized protest. A large red banner reading "Reopen Engine Co. 212" hung from the top floor of an apartment building across from the celebration. And a loudspeaker delivered a commentary about the firehouses during lulls in the speeches about the bridge.

The Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, who shared the stage with the mayor yesterday, sided with the protesters. "I happen to believe that they're right and that the city made a terrible mistake," he said.

And when the City Council speaker, Gifford Miller, arrived for the cake-cutting, he greeted the crowd by shouting: "Hello, People's Firehouse! Hello, Williamsburg!"

Mr. Miller and the rest of the Council have repeatedly criticized the closing of the fire companies. But he has always stopped short of threatening to block any budget that will not reopen firehouses, or preserve any other city service.

"Just putting the money back in the budget for them wouldn't reopen them," Mr. Miller said. "So that's why it's important for us to try to work as a matter of agreement, rather than to just dissolve into disagreement."