An American flag posted outside of the Flatlands Volunteer Ambulance Corps since shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, has drawn the ire of the Department of Sanitation, but corps members were able to dodge the citation because of a strange mistaken-identity mishap.
The patriotic volunteers received a $300 citation from the Department of Sanitation informing them that their star-spangled banner — which they have proudly displayed for nearly 14 years without incident on a sidewalk-mounted pole near the curb of Avenue N at Schenectady Avenue — is in violation of a law prohibiting the obstruction of pedestrian pathways.
Ambulance corps members were shocked by the affront to their display of patriotism, arguing that its place on the sidewalk — near a fire plug painted red, white, and blue — is a matter of honor.
“I take a lot of pride in my country and in my flag, and to me, it’s a little bit insulting,” said Sal Caruso, a veteran who has volunteered with the ambulance corps for 30 years. “I feel it’s an insult to the American flag and to America.”
Caruso is among the corps members who installed a series of American flags along Avenue N and Flatbush Avenue in the week following 9-11, and he takes great pride in the maintenance of the banner. He even installed a light outside of the corps headquarters to shine on the flag so it could remain flapping in the breeze after dark in strict accordance with the U.S. Flag Code.
Technically, the flag — flying six inches from the curb at the edge of a wide walkway — is a sidewalk obstruction as defined by city law, so the Department of Sanitation’s star-spangled ban is legitimate. Or it would have been, had the department’s enforcer filled out the citation properly.
The corps went to court on June 16 — two days after Flag Day — to fight the ticket, arguing that the name on the citation, “Minerva Carabello,” does not belong to anyone affiliated with the Flatlands Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
“We’re not responsible for it at this point because of the name of the person it’s made out to,” said Joe Auerbach, the corps’ spokesman. “It’s not made out to us. If anybody finds her, she’ll be responsible.”
The identity of Carabello remains a mystery to corps, which has no record of the name in its register.
“I told them we don’t have anybody by that name,” said Caruso, who appeared in court to explain to the judge. “I said, ‘here’s our list of members. On none of these sheets does that name appear.’ He said, ‘Do you want to represent this party?’ And I said ‘no!’ ”
The judge tossed the ticket, so the ambulance corps won’t have to pay the fine — and unless the group receives a proper citation, it won’t have to take down Old Glory. Caruso said the flag will remain at its post as long as the fortunate mishap grants it immunity.
“As long as it’s not endangering anybody,” he said. “A flag flapping is really not a danger, if you know what I mean.”