Don’t let Bloomberg close NYC firehouses
NEW YORK--Close to 200 residents of the Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick neighborhoods in Brooklyn joined together June 7 to protest Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plans to close three neighborhood firehouses.
The crowd was made up of senior citizens and toddlers, and everyone in between. The crowd chanted for a lively three quarters of an hour before speakers took the microphone to address the crowd, which included members of the South Side United Housing Development Corporation, Save Our Southside, El Puente Community Center, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, Los Sures and a community Head Start program, in addition to residents.
The crowd overwhelmed the protest pens and spilled onto the street to hear local politicians and community organizers speak. Traffic was shut down for about an hour.
Bloomberg's budget includes plans to shut down 20 firehouses in New York City. This cutback has caused outrage, expressed at a rally of over 15,000 on June 3, which marched over the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall to protest the firehouse closings.
Since 2003, the Bloomberg administration has shuttered seven fire companies. The fire department has experienced a 16 percent increase in emergency calls, but has 900 fewer firefighters compared to its pre-September 11 strength. In fact, each of the last seven years has surpassed the previous to be the busiest year on record for the fire department. Yet just this February, Bloomberg reduced staffing for engine companies from five to four.
"[The closings] endanger our lives and lowers our standard of living," said Emmanuel, of the El Puente Leadership Academy. "Just because we're minority doesn't mean we don't have the same needs."
When one speaker told the crowd, "They're taking away our firefighters, our teachers, our schools," a rally participant shouted: "They cut our bus service last year, too!"--referring to the cuts to public transportation by the Metropolitan Transit Authority last year.
Speakers also raised environmental concerns. Radiac Research Corp. operates a hazardous waste transfer facility--which stores plutonium and uranium, among other toxic materials--just blocks away from one firehouse. A fire at Radiac would be catastrophic, releasing radioactive material into the air and potentially poisoning thousands of residents.
The rally ended with participants mingling in the streets, ignoring officers' orders to get on the sidewalks for as long as possible, networking, chanting and signing petitions. Debbie Matina, the organizer of the rally, ended her speech to the crowd with the exhortation, "We will not stop until we stop these cuts!"