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Century of service - ‘Woodhaven Wildcats’

Lt. John Byrne of Engine 293 in Woodhaven has heard every joke in the book about his name.
“Byrne, well, you’re in the right profession,” he repeated. To which he replies, “I’ve never heard that one before.”
Between him and his father, Thomas A. Byrne, a former fire Lieutenant in Long Island City, the family fought fires for a total of 63 years, and counting.
Moreover, even the house where Byrne, 54, is currently stationed has a long history of firefighting. Recently the Engine Company, located on 87th Street, celebrated its centennial.
“I’ve been here for 10 years. That’s 10 percent of the age of the house,” Byrne joked.
According to fire officials, the engine was originally part of the Clarenceville Hook and Ladder #2, a group of volunteer fire companies based in Richmond Hill. In 1907, several of the units disbanded and a few Fire Department of New York (FDNY) companies, including Engine 293, were formed.
For eight years, the company, then called “Hose 2” remained in the Richmond Hill house - located on Greenwood Avenue between Lexington and Atlantic Avenues. Then on January 1, 1915, Engine 293 officially moved into its current location at 740 Benedict Avenue - now called 89-40 87th Street.
When local politicians and fire officials gathered at the firehouse on Wednesday, July 18, State Senator Serphin Maltese, Councilmember Joseph Addabbo, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta and Assistant Chief of Operations Robert Sweeney commended the unit, nicknamed the “Woodhaven Wildcats.”
“Many things have changed in this neighborhood since 1907,” Sweeney said. “But one thing that hasn’t changed is the service, dedication, bravery and honor of the firefighters who work out of this house.”
Even though nearly all of the equipment has changed over the past 100 years, remnants of the past, like a mosaic seal emblazoned in the building’s eaves and a fallout shelter sign from the 1950s, remain. The white tin roof likely dates back to the building’s creation, Byrne said. In addition, firefighters recently uncovered unusual sand- and hunter-colored tiles covering the walls of the apparatus floor, which had been blackened by exhaust fumes over the years.
Outside of the house, there is a strip of slotted cement was once used by horses almost as a doormat and in the kitchen hangs a hook and ladder, dating back at least 60 years. A member discovered the tool, which firefighters once used up until 25 years ago to hook onto windowsills and climb up, several years ago in the basement.
“The gear is very different than the original firefighting tools, and it’s constantly changing,” Byrne said.
In addition to Byrne, several other members, whose experience ranges from two to 28 years with the Department, also trace back a history of firefighting within their own family trees.
Eric Horigan’s father, two brothers, and two uncles all were firefighters, and Richard Riccardi, 37, had three uncles on the job.
“It’s just a very meaningful profession,” said Horigan, 30 and of Long Island, who has been with Engine 293 for two and a half years.
And first-generation firefighters - Woodhaven native Dave Sperandeo and Charlie Staples, on loan from Engine 315 in Flushing for the day - the tradition may just be beginning.
“It’s something that I always wanted to do,” Sperandeo, 33, said, explaining that his 5-year-old nephew now wants to be a firefighter.
Although battling blazes is what most imagine when thinking about the life of a firefighter, the job has much more variety.
Engine 293 - which has 28 firefighters, including five officers, and a single engine - goes out on about 2,200 runs each year. About 1,500 are in response to fires, Byrne said, and the rest are mainly EMS calls. On about 120 calls per year, Engine 293 is the first to respond to the scene of a blaze.
“We can go anywhere to fight a fire,” Byrne said, explaining that the company gets calls from as far as the Rockaways and East New York.
In 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed closing Engine 293, along with seven other companies across the city, but community members and local elected officials rallied to save the historic firehouse.

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