- Published: 26 January 1976 26 January 1976
BROOKLYN, New York – New York has become the city of cutbacks. And residents of the northside section of the Williamsburg area here found in November that the city was going to close their fire station.
They didn't like that. "We're surrounded by oil depots and this station is sitting on top of a pipeline. And most of the houses are wooden frame rows.'' said Fred Ringler of the Northside Community Redevelopment Council. "The city is cutting down on services here trying to force residents out and let business expand," he added.
Tbe Northside residents weren't ready to give in to this. So, in November, 250 of them occupied the fire station, holding both tbe firemen and the truck hostage overnight.
The next day a task force of city. police, and fjre officials met with the occupiers. They left after getting promises from Fire Commissioner John O'Hagan that the truck would remain for at least five days and that he would notify community officials before any further steps were taken.
Notification came five days later when the station siren sounded. No one knows who set it off, but the neighborhood took it as a warning that the truck would be removed that night.
They re-occupied and they've been there ever since. Between five and 20 people are in the station 24 hours a day.
On January 15 Engine Company #212 was rededicated People's Company #1. Five hundred people attended tbe community ceremony.
The local Catholic school closed to let students attend.
This week someone left a truck full of coal so the occupiers could keep warm.
But despite the high spirits, the neighborhood's concern is fire.
The city claims that with the station closed, response time to a fire will increase by only 30 seconds. Normal response time is 3 minutes.
But on the night of November 29 the nearest available company took 22 minutes to respond to an alarm box around the corner from the closed station.
So the occupiers have been using their time to learn to fight fires.
Retired auxiliary firemen taught 35 older residents, mostly women, and 15 teenagers skills such as stretching lines, testing hydrants and protecting people from smoke.
The company is now prepared to respond to fires with fire extinguishers, and a number of residents. know how to Operate the truck.
However, Adam Veneski of the Community Council told Workers' Power that they won't use the truck because our men will be arrested and the department will seize lt." In fact, to get reliable protection from fire, the occupiers will have to force the city to reopen tbe station. That is also the only way to win back the jobs that are loot through closings.
The Northside Council has brought the city to court to get the station officially reopened. The decision is due January 28 in State Supreme Court.
Seven other neighborhood groups have already gone to court and lost in trying to reopen the closed stations. By allying themselves with the unions involved in the closings, and taking joint action, both the residents and the firefighters have the best changes of winning back their fire station and their jobs.