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Protesters stand up for Engine Co. 294

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In the latest in a string of protests against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed closing of 20 firehouses across the city, elected officials, civic leaders and firefighters rallied at Engine 294 in Richmond Hill Sunday, demanding that the mayor not close it or any other engine companies in the city.

“That should not be in a budget cut,” said City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills). “People’s safety should not be in a budget cut.”

Engine 294, which sits at 101-20 Jamaica Ave. beneath the elevated train, giving it the nickname “El’s Angels,” is one of four firehouses in Queens and 20 around the city that faces shuttering under the new budget.

Others in Queens include Ladder 128 at 33-51 Greenpoint Ave. in Blissville, Engine 306 at 40-18 214th Place in Bayside and Engine 328 at 16-19 Central Ave. in Far Rockaway. Protests have already been held at Ladder 128 and Engine 306 this month, and Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) is planning to hold a protest against the closing of Engine 328.

Koslowitz, City Council members Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), as well as civic leaders with the Richmond Hill and Woodhaven block associations, all came out to protest the closing.

“To see them come up with this as one of the options, it knocks your faith in government,” said Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association.

Koslowitz said many of the houses in Richmond Hill were built a long time ago and are made of wood, making fire safety crucial. This sentiment was echoed by other protesters.

“Every minute you’re not getting water on the fire, you increase the size of the fire,” said Jerry Coin, a battalion commander with the FDNY.

In a citywide demonstration Friday hundreds of firefighters and their supporters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to a rally near City Hall to denounce Bloomberg’s plan. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and City Council members Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) and Crowley told the protesters the mayor’s plan must not succeed.

In a previous interview with TimesLedger Newspapers, Marc LaVorgna, spokesman for the mayor’s office, said the closings were necessary given the reductions in aid from the state to the city and that response times and deaths have been reduced even though the city closed firehouses in 2003.

Janis Gregory, a Staten Island dispatcher who attended the Richmond Hill protest Sunday, said she did not trust how the city counted response times. She said closing the Engine 294 would not just affect Richmond Hill, but would create a domino effect in which the fire coverage would need to come from even farther away if the first firehouse normally to respond was at another fire.

“I don’t think the public understands the magnitude,” Gregory said, “and I know the mayor doesn’t understand the magnitude.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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