‘Woodhaven Wildcats’ turn 100

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.”
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 be just beginning.
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.
In a neighborhood largely comprised of single and two-family homes, many of which are wood structures, local residents wanted a fire company situated nearby.
“We have a great deal of support in the community,” Byrne said.
On Monday morning, amid the continuing rainfall, the crew went on an EMS call to help an elderly man who had fallen down in his house.
“You find when you go out on a call that they start to open up, telling you everything,” Byrne said. “They tell you that they are glad you are there.”

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