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Water tossed on fire sale - Reopen Engine 204, many say

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You can’t sell it, because you might just need it. That was the resounding message members of Community Board 6’s Landmarks and Land Use Committee sent the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services last week when they turned down their application to sell off the building that once housed Engine Company 204. Although the 19th century building at 299 Degraw Street hasn’t berthed a fire truck since 2003, board members said that continued development in downtown Brooklyn warrants its re-opening. “It’s just logical that this area is going to need more fire protection services in the future,” said Devin Cohen, the board’s first vice president and chair of the board’s Public Safety committee. Speakers attending the committee hearing at St. Mary’s Residence at 41 1st Street said that the city should shy away from hasty decisions to rid themselves of the property, which could be used to hold FDNY equipment or act as a “hotel” for members of other borough fire companies being renovated until its re-opening is required. Other members recommended that the property be handed over to the Friends of Firefighters, a group dedicated to assisting New York’s firefighter community through counseling and wellness services. If the city ultimately decides to rid themselves of the building, some speakers, including Sam Cooper, chief of staff for Assemblymember Joan Millman’s office, recommended that the property should be landmarked and given to a community based organization. Citing economic constraints, the FDNY shuttered Engine Company 204 and a handful of other fire companies in the spring of 2003. Several elected officials, including City Councilmember Bill deBlasio and Millman, were arrested as they tried to block the city from officially shutting Engine 204 down. Late last year, the city announced its plan to auction off the property, a move that hosed down any hope that the firehouse would be re-opened. But, before the city could put the property on the auction block, it has to go through a Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure. The first step was the CB 6 hearing. After hearing from a half-dozen speakers, the land use committee voted unanimously against having the property sold. As this paper was going to press, the full board was expected to approve the recommendation on January 10. Another hearing held by Borough President’s office about the issue is scheduled to take place at Borough Hall on January 24. These recommendations – all advisory – will be evaluated by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services later this year. “I hear a lot of people wanting to keep the firehouse,” de Blasio told committee members. “This firehouse is a staple of the community and we have to speak about its re-opening with a unified voice.” Although de Blasio is expected to discuss fire safety issues in downtown Brooklyn with FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta in the near future, the councilman said that the “jury was still out if there has been an impact on response times since 204 was closed.” Time and time again the city has claimed that response times have not been affected. De Blasio said that nearly 6,000 new units of housing have been built in Community Boards 2, 6 and 7 in the last five years alone. Another 1,200 units are expected to be built in the next few years, he said. That number doesn’t include the Atlantic Yards, which, now approved, promises to bring 6,500 additional housing units would be brought to the area. “If Brooklyn needs new infrastructure and new public safety capacity, they need it right here,” said de Blasio. “But the administration wants to sell off a public safety asset that is already available with a proud 150-year history.” Committee members, including chair Jerry Armer, said that there are simpler why Engine 204 should be re-opened. “We have a great number of relatively new buildings in the area,” said Armer. “But we also have a large number of old buildings. When they catch fire, they go up quickly.”

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