Gerritsen Beach in southern Brooklyn is home to one of the last remaining volunteer firefighting units in New York — but the city hasn’t made it easy on them.
According to Daniel Cavanagh, the chief of the Gerritsen Beach Volunteer Fire Department, various city agencies have caused massive headaches for the organization, which he claims has compromised their ability to ensure safety in the nabe.
While the GBFD was working with the Office of Resilient Homes and Communities (formerly the Governor’s Office for Storm Recovery) to help sustain and repair infrastructure damaged during Superstorm Sandy, the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) conducted their own resiliency project — which allegedly inflicted a litany of damage to the GBFD firehouse.
While the GBFD was completing their own multi-million dollar coastal resiliency project with the Office of Resilient Homes and Communities in 2021, the DDC allegedly damaged a flood barrier system at the firehouse.
Following the damage, on July 7, 2021 a meeting was held outside the firehouse with a DDC Community Liaison to plan and discuss the future construction in and around the flood barrier system.
According to meeting minutes, the liaison told Cavanagh that the sidewalk leading to the fire station’s front doors and garage would be reconstructed to his specifications. The liaison also said that DDC Brooklyn Deputy Director Marie Brandao assured Cavanagh that the city was responsible for replacing or repairing any damage done to the building, especially since it pertained to emergency services.
“We had this big meeting and they promised us that this would go back as the manufacturer’s instructions that they weren’t going to use any heavy machinery, that they were going to hand-excavate everything,” Cavanagh told Brooklyn Paper on May 12. “They basically disregarded all of that because when the construction actually started, I had emailed them again basically saying ‘Hey everyone, as a reminder this is what you said, this is what’s going on.’ I gave them instructions and everything and they didn’t do anything [correctly].”
Following the meeting, the DDC began construction on the sidewalk adjacent to and in front of the fire station at 52 Seba Ave. to relocate a gas main in August of 2022, while assuring the GBFD that their construction would not interfere with the station’s own sidewalk and entry.
They also said it would maintain the very specific structural integrity needed to protect and prevent flooding in the building.
On August 2, 2022, preliminary demolition of the existing sidewalk took place, and three days later Cavanagh emailed the DDC again requesting that the pavement and construction of the sidewalk be done according to the previous specifications the GBFD laid out during their initial meeting with DDC officials in 2021.
On August 8, 2022 members of the GBFD saw that the sidewalk in front of their station and its garage had indeed been paved, however so had the front flood barrier door of the station.
“They cemented us in, we couldn’t open it,” said Cavanagh “It’s just carelessness and this is a special door. You can’t go to Home Depot and buy this door, this is like an $8,500 door and it’s designed to keep the water out of the building. Anything over four feet [of flooding] and the building’s gonna collapse.”
Immediately following the discovery of the damage to the fire station, Cavanagh contacted DDC engineer Leonid Goldenburg, who had reportedly told him that damage would be fixed and the sidewalk would be paved according to the original specifications agreed upon between the DDC and the GBFD.
Repeatedly, via email, phone calls and in-person, Cavanagh and the GBFD have attempted to collaborate and communicate their needs to the DDC regarding the construction in front of the fire station.
But they have been stymied at every turn — as new problems arose whenever a previous one was remedied.
When they fixed the paving-over of the door, it did not meet the expectations of the GBFD as the leveling of the concrete is uneven, which doesn’t allow for the door to properly seal to prevent flooding.
This dire need for proper construction was emphasized recently during a recent rainstorm which saw large swaths of the Gerritsen Beach community flooded.
The flooding proved to be the final straw for the GBFD, especially after Cavanagh received an email on May 1, from Lambert Monah, Assistant Commissioner of Infrastructure stating that the city was not able to “substantiate the claim that the City’s contractor had caused any kind of damage to the Flood Mitigating System during the construction of the driveway.”
This seemingly contradicted previous meetings and communication that Cavanagh had had with DDC officials, and he responded in turn.
“While you enjoyed your weekend, our department was out busy responding to manhole fires, flooded basements, and other emergencies while our own firehouse was left vulnerable to rising rain waters caused by negligence,” Cavanagh replied in an email on May 1. “It’s absolutely infuriating that you claim there’s no evidence to substantiate the damage caused during the construction of the driveway, when my flood system was fully functional before the DDC’s disastrous project. After your team’s shoddy work and blatant broken promises, I’m left with a completely wrecked system that has been deemed a total loss by both the installer and the manufacturer.”
The estimated cost for total repairs was cited as $40,450 in October of 2022 by contractor Orange Flood Control, but could be closer to $50,000 or $60,000 since time has dragged on along with more potentially damaging storms.
As one of the last volunteer fire-fighting organizations in Brooklyn, Cavanagh said it feels as though the city does not care about them or the community they serve.
“We have to beg, cheat and steal for everything we have,” said Cavanagh. “We don’t get tax money, we get direct donations so anything that’s spent here, the community’s spending on and we can’t justify spending $60,000. We don’t have to fix a problem that an agency caused, especially when we preserve our rights and do everything the right way.”
When asked to comment on the negligence alleged by the GBFD, DDC spokesperson Ian Michaels told Brooklyn Paper that the DDC had met several times with GBFD leaders about the damage claims, but that an independent engineering firm examined the claims and found that the city was not, in fact, responsible.
“The independent engineers found that in the course of delivering $30 million of street and water infrastructure upgrades for Gerritsen Beach ahead of schedule and under budget, DDC caused only minor damage to one door that the city has agreed to fix and no further damage at all, let alone anything like what is being claimed,” said Michaels on Tuesday. “As we would at any project, we will continue to work with our community partners to ensure they enjoy the full benefits of this critical project.”