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Engine Company 212

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Firehouse saved through community efforts

Place Details

Borough : Brooklyn
Neighborhood : North Side
Institution, Emergency Response

Place Matters Profile

By Jennifer Scott

In October 2006, the city announced it would sell five firehouses that were closed in 2003. That announcement set off a wave of protests, but at one of those places, Engine 212 in Brooklyn (est. 1869), neighbors had been struggling for years to keep the firehouse open.

In November 1975, the city announced it would close Engine Company 212 in the Northside neighborhood of Williamsburg. Local residents and business could have received the news as just one more painful blow in a season of losses brought on by the fiscal crisis. Instead, Northside residents got together and occupied the firehouse. Led by Adam Veneski, a neighborhood grocer, hundreds of local people took over Engine 212 and refused to leave or let the fire truck or water pumper be taken away. For close to a year and a half, supporters lived in the firehouse, staged countless protests, and...

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"New York Voices" Channel 13 Feature


Philip DePaolo

When an air raid siren went off at Engine Company 212 on Thanksgiving Day 1975, alarmed residents poured into the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn to find out what was going on. Paul Veneski recalls how their confusion turned to anger after a firefighter showed up to explain. A group of city officials had just arrived at the local firehouse unannounced. They had come to shut down Engine Company 212.

Within hours three hundred angry residents had gathered in front of the Williamsburg Engine Company to block the city from removing the fire truck. That night a handful of protestors packed their bags and moved in to the two-story firehouse at 136 Wythe Avenue, refusing to leave until the city agreed to keep the Engine Company open. Many stayed for the next sixteen months, prompting a journalist to dub 212 "the People's Firehouse."

The city finally relented in 1977 and the firehouse survived. But the city closed Engine Company 212 again in May 2003 and now they want to sell the firehouse.

In Williamsburg, Engine 212 was a beloved neighborhood fixture, and is known as "the people's firehouse". It had a long history of community involvement, with a very active local group of people who worked closely with the firehouse, and worked on many, many social, environmental and community programs. How many other firehouses in the city have such close ties to the community? Most firefighters do not live anywhere near the communities they work in, for various reasons, and to have had such a good rapport with a community is rare, and also is what being a "civil servant" should be about, something that takes a concerted effort on both sides. 212 had this, and it is being destroyed. Engine 212 was built in 1869, and was one of the original Engines when the FDNY was formed.

(October 2006)

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