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Middle Village corps angers its neighbors

People who live on the block off Metropolitan Avenue complain corps volunteers...

By Dustin Brown

Since the Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps moved its headquarters to 70th Street two months ago, its relationship with nearby homeowners has been less than neighborly.

People who live on the block off Metropolitan Avenue complain corps volunteers have broken promises they made before moving into the small two-family home, blaring their siren and leaving an ambulance in a street where parking is limited.

But Joseph Magnus, the vice president of the ambulance corps, said his volunteers are being harassed by neighbors for simply performing tasks that are necessary for the group’s operation.

“After 29 years we do know how to run the ambulance service,” Magnus said in a phone interview Monday. “We will be doing the same thing we were doing for the last 29 years.”

The dispute spilled into a public forum at the Community Board 5 meeting April 10 when supporters of the corps faced off against 70th Street residents who demanded concessions from their new neighbors.

Elizabeth Crowley, who lost her November bid for the City Council, commended the ambulance corps for saving the life of her father, the late Councilman Walter Crowley, when he suffered a heart attack in 1984.

Neighbors responded to comments from Crowley and others by distinguishing their respect for the corps’ heroism from their frustration with its members’ un-neighborly demeanor.

“We do support them. We’re just asking for a little courtesy,” area resident Ethel Mogielnicki said. “They’re heroes, they do help people, that’s true. We know the sirens have to go. We’re just asking for courtesy.”

Robert Holden, a member of Community Board 5 and the president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, plans to schedule a meeting for both parties to air their complaints and reach a resolution.

“We’re going to try to meet very soon — the sooner the better,” he said.

But the escalating dispute has prompted Magnus to meet with 104th Precinct Capt. Peter Loehle to explain a series of troubling incidents that have occurred since the group moved to its 70th Street headquarters.

Magnus said the tires were slashed on one volunteer’s car, and other members have faced neighbors in angry confrontations. One driver apparently blocked the ambulance’s path with her car as it recently tried to respond to an emergency call.

Although Magnus stressed he does not know who is responsible for the incidents, he said his volunteers are growing concerned for their safety when they leave the headquarters late at night.

The Middle Village Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which was founded in 1973, moved in February from its longtime home at 79-04 Metropolitan Ave. to 66-76 70th St., which Magnus described as an ideal location because its large driveway has room for its two ambulances.

Residents of 70th Street met two months ago with representatives of the corps at a meeting of the Community Board 5 Public Safety Committee, which Holden chairs, to discuss their initial concerns about the move.

When an ambulance is in service — usually between 7 p.m. and midnight — it is left on the street in front of the house to expedite response time.

But despite the corps’ assurances its ambulance would be kept in the driveway behind a locked gate at all other hours, it now sits like a permanent fixture on the street.

“That ambulance stays there morning, noon and night, around the clock, whether they’re there or not,” said Mary Morris, a 70th Street resident who also sits on the community board. “It was promised the ambulance had to be kept under lock and key when they were not in service.”

Magnus said the ambulance sits in the street because an enormous curbside tree leaning over the street may damage the top of the vehicle, which makes maneuvering it in and out of the driveway difficult.

But if the city Department of Transportation agrees to move a “No Standing” sign 16 feet closer to Metropolitan Avenue, the volunteers would be able to keep their promise and remove the ambulance from the street, Magnus said.

On other issues, such as the use of the siren, Magnus said concessions are impossible.

Although neighbors want the siren only to sound after the ambulance leaves the street, Magnus said it is vital to alert traffic of the need to leave room for the emergency vehicle, which responds to 12 calls a month on average. The corps also is required by the state to test the ambulance at the start of every tour.

Despite the controversy, the corps intends to stay put.

“The good that we’re doing for the community outweighs all the complaints that they have,” Magnus said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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