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Fire rig in need of digs

Decades ago, Betsy the fire engine, wailed through Clason Point. On September 11, 2001, Betsy wailed downtown.

Now Johnny Arroyo is wailing for Betsy. Arroyo is the Clason Point Aviation Volunteer Fire Company’s assistant chief and Betsy, like the company, is homeless.

On Monday, January 19, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Arroyo and others hauled Betsy through Community District 9 to drum up community support. They want to save the fire engine and company.

Active since 1918, the Clason Point volunteers had their firehouse condemned in 2002. Last year, the city’s Department of Parks booted Betsy from the Clason Point Yacht Club. According to Arroyo, the growing neighborhood could use Betsy’s help.

Walter Nestler grew up in Clason Point. He helped organize Monday’s march.

“The company has always been important to our community,” Nestler said. “The guys put out a fire at my parents’ house in 1953. My mother was pregnant with me.”

In 1923, the fire company settled into 1820 Harding Park. Nearly 80 years later, disaster struck.

Arroyo and his buddies left the firehouse for the 2002 Puerto Rican Day Parade. When they returned, it was padlocked and marked for demolition.

“It was a really bad thing done to us,” Arroyo said. “We kept a generator running outside the firehouse. We survived for eight months. But it got cold. We had to sell most of our equipment. Betsy is all we have left.”

The Clason Point Yacht Club took pity on Arroyo’s crew. Betsy sheltered three years at 3 Soundview Avenue. Then, in November, Parks told the fire company to scram, Nestler said. The volunteers no longer fight fires. Besty passes from private yard to yard.

According to Nestler and Arroyo, Clason Point could use the fire company. The neighborhood has added 2,000 housing units in a matter of years, Nestler said.

When Hurricane Katrina blasted New Orleans, Arroyo and other Clason Point volunteers drove south to help. On September 11, 2001, Arroyo ferried equipment to Ground Zero.

The Harding Park Homeowners Association occupies a new building where Clason Point’s firehouse once stood. On Monday, Arroyo and Betsy rode a flatbed truck past the offices of Community District 9’s elected officials blaring gospel music.

Arroyo is planning a follow-up protest.

To make a contribution or to volunteer to assist in the cause, please call Johnny Arroyo at (646) 721-7847.

With Patrick Rocchio

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CNG: Community Newspaper Group