The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for the ‘fire’ Category

black smoke

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What a nightmare.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Returning from a short constitutional walk the other night, a sudden explosion of FDNY activity drew my attention to the corner of Newtown Road and 45th street here in Astoria. A structural fire was consuming one of the older homes in the neighborhood, a wood framed one set back from the property line. It soon became an all hands fire, it seems, and FDNY units from both Woodside and Astoria were present, as was Rescue Unit 4.

I also captured a bit of video on my phone, which can be accessed here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The neighbors were all coming out of their houses to see what was happening, and lots of them were breaking out in tears over the spectacle. I suddenly realized that dozens if not a hundred people were forming a crowd and one beat it out of there quickly in the name of social distancing. Cooties.

I don’t know anyone who lives in that house, thought I, but as it turns out that wasn’t true. Somebody from the outer ring of my social circle did indeed live there and was now homeless. Under normal circumstance, this is plain horrible, and the normal systemic response would involve the Red Cross setting you up in a hotel for a couple of days while the insurance people figure out next steps. Fire insurance will usually pay for temporary lodging until the house is determined to be fixable or a total loss, at which point repairs are made or you have to find a new apartment.

During the current crisis – this is a nightmare scenario.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I posted the video of the fire to a couple of social media platforms, and made sure that City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer was aware of it, since this is not only his district but the neighborhood he grew up in. The next morning, a message was sent to me from a friend informing that the aforementioned “outer ring” acquaintance of ours was in fact now homeless and sleeping on their couch, and I made sure that JVB’s office had their contact information. Apparently, some sort of shelter for the poor fellow was arranged.

Structural fires are one of the things which I am worrying about more and more with all of us trapped inside. Be careful in your kitchens lords and ladies, and with those extension cords, and if you don’t have a fire extinguisher or two in your house – get some.

Also, on this date in 1909, the Queensboro Bridge opened for traffic. That’s your NYC history trivia of the day.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the start of the week of Monday, March 23rd. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates as we move into April and beyond, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

March 30, 2020 at 11:00 am

hitherto baffled

with 2 comments

Santa Claus, Sunnyside, the Turks, and FDNY Ladder 163 – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Celebrating the forthcoming Saturnalia, on a stretch of Sunnyside’s Skillman Avenue, the community received a visit from Santa on Saturday the third of December. There was a street fair sort of thing, and all the local small businesses welcomed the arrival of both Father Christmas and the shoppers who followed him. The whole thing was orchestrated and underwritten by the office of Jimmy Van Bramer, the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and I think there were other donors but didn’t pick up on who they were. 

The owners of Flynn’s, Quaint and Claret, and the Dog & Duck all slept happily that night – I’m sure – after watching their establishments grow absolutely full to the gills with merry making community based customers who were lured over to Skillman Avenue for the event.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even the Turks, who aren’t exactly Christmas people, got in on the show. They were grilling kebabs – or whatever the Mediterranean grilled meat on a stick standard is called in Anatolia – on a smoky BBQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was asked to come and photograph the event by my friends in the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and did my standard “thing” at public events when behind the camera. Part of my “thing” is this – always take pictures of kids, dogs and the food.

I moved back and forth between 51st street and 43rd street on Skillman Avenue, which was closed to traffic due to the pending arrival of Santa and the concurrent lighting of a tree at that little church on the corner of 48th. I will admit that this sort of event photography ain’t exactly exciting for me – I mean… it’s not like something visually “exciting” is going to happen at a parade or street fair.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On one of my passes, the smoky Turkish BBQ pictured above had disappeared. The smoke liberally painting the air was now billowing up from their sidewalk basement gates, and FDNY had arrived on the scene.

As mentioned in the past, I was the Brooklyn kid who ran down the street yelling “Firemen, Firemen” whenever an engine or ladder truck screamed past. Nothing has changed for me, despite the passing of multiple decades.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A minor blaze had broken out in the basement of the Turkiyem Market, it seems.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ladder 163 was called to the scene, along with their partner unit Engine 325 – both are stationed at the same firehouse and they call themselves the “Woodside Warriors.” The two units were discussed a couple of weeks ago, in this post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that this was a street fair, ultimately, the normal crowd control stuff they do didn’t apply and this was a rare opportunity to get in close and observe while FDNY did its thing. Saying that, I wasn’t “that” close as I was using that new zoom lens of mine – the Sigma 50-100mm f1.8. I also swapped in another Sigma lens occasionally, which was an 18-35mm f1.8. Periodically I fired off the flash for a bit of extra light, but I’m trying not to use camera mounted flashes these days.

These two Sigma lenses are now the core glass in my “NYC night kit,” btw.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The FDNY folks firehoses (monitors?) were charged up with hydrant water, but from what I surmised, the initial wave of personnel who went into the basement had managed to quell things using hand operated extinguishers. I suspect that they probably squirted a bit of water around down there anyway in the name of conquering any “hot spots,” or areas which might reignite.

BTW, I question “monitors” above as that’s what you’d call a fire suppression hose and nozzle on a boat. If any of “youse guys” are on the job, let me know what you call a fire hose in the comments. The comedic potential of the preceding sentence is acknowledged, but keep it clean – this is a family blog.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was all terribly exciting. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The crisis was averted, and Sunnyside got back to the holiday season. Jimmy Van Bramer lit a Christmas tree at the church, kids sang holiday ditties, and eventually Santa showed up despite being around 25 minutes late. It seems that Santa got stuck in highway traffic, which amplifies the message on a bit of common knowledge held by all New Yorkers.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, beats the Van Wyck. Not even Santa.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

secrets never

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Wandering, always wandering.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One fine and recent day, my steps carried me all over Western Queens. Well, not ALL over. I wasn’t in Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, or the forbidden Northern Shore in Astoria. I was in LIC and Sunnyside, however. There was quite a hullabaloo over on 43rd Avenue, and a massive FDNY deployment which was responding to an apartment fire in one of the multi unit building you’ll observe in the section in the 40’s.

I can’t help it, when I see FDNY going to work, I run down the street like a 5 year old yelling “Firemen, Firemen” at the top of my lungs.Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of these Firefighters was actually a Firelady.

I have to get with the times and stop using gender specific pronouns lest I be sent for corrective therapy at a reeducation campus by the (self described) militias of progressive social justice warriors who lurk online and monitor the Internet for language violations and who police microagressive offenses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Borden Avenue corridor of LIC in the shot above, which is currently the focal point of the speculative Real Estate shit flies. Everywhere I go, people tell me that the interested shit flies want to convert this M1 heavy manufacturing zone over to commercial zoning, which would allow for the creation of office buildings in the corridor between the Pulaski Bridge and Greenpoint Avenue.

I have to say, this actually isn’t a terrible idea. What LIC needs right now is not more apartment and residential stock, rather it needs places for people to work and a commercial corridor which would certainly have a lower environmental impact on Newtown Creek and its tributary Dutch Kills which is local to this area. The former is to the left (or south) side of the shot, just past Fresh Direct and the other warehouse businesses, and the latter is behind the POV of the shot above.

My only request for this conversion would be that the shit flies encourage the MTA to reactivate the Long Island Railroad station found on the other side of the Pualski Bridge for passenger service, which would not make the commercial tenants of the corridor dependent on the Vernon Jackson stop of the 7 train – which is around a half mile away and already quite crowded due to the residential buildout of the East River waterfront and the area surrounding Court Square and Queens Plaza.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One thing I have repeatedly noticed in recent months is the startling number of people you find in industrial LIC these days. When this, your Newtown Pentacle, was started up back in 2009 LIC was a ghost town on the weekends. The sense of devastating loneliness and isolation from the surrounding city is what drew me here in the first place, and it’s bizarre to see people wandering around in my happy hunting grounds.

Who are all these people in my safe space?

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 21, 2016 at 11:00 am

swept aside

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Conspiracy in North Brooklyn?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the FDNY’s Firefighter 2 Fireboat dousing the remains of a document storage warehouse at North 11th street right at the border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. The building is likely a total loss and will be probably be demolished, as this was a seven alarm “all hands fire” which required the attentions of more than 200 Firefighters to control. It’s eerily similar to the Greenpoint Terminal Market fire, which “Grenperntners” will eagerly describe as an arson job designed to clear the way for real estate development. FDNY investigators described the Greenpoint Terminal Market event as an accident brought on by a homeless man’s campfire.

There’s a few conspiracy theories already forming around CitiStorage, which I’ll pass on with the caveat that these are “conspiracy theories” and nothing resembling the final analysis of what happened will be available for months until after the FDNY investigators pronounce judgement.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The first conspiracy theory is alluded to above, and declares that the Real Estate Industrial Complex was hungry for this valuable piece of land on Brooklyn’s Gold Coast. Arsonists were sent in to get rid of the structure, which is why the fire had two distinct ignition events. To me, this one doesn’t hold water, as it’s far simpler for the REIC to legally gain possession of anything they want simply by pushing the right political buttons. Look at Willets Point, or Atlantic Yards, or Hudson Yards for examples of the vulgar display of their power. This “burn out” concept used to be a thing, during the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The second theory requires a bit of context to fully appreciate. The documents storage facility which went up in flames housed, amongst other things, court and hospital records for the City. The Albany scandal revolving around Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver accuses him of various improprieties regarding referrals to a personal injury law firms, from which he personally profited. The conspiracy theory is that somebody torched this place to protect the former “most powerful man in New York” from some revelation or “smoking gun” which Federal investigators might have found there. Again, a conspiracy theory, not a conclusion.

from nytimes.com

Those that said they had records stored in the warehouse, which occupies nearly half a square block, included the state court system, the city Administration for Children’s Services, the city Health and Hospitals Corporation, and members of the Greater New York Hospital Association.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whatever happened, the toxic plume of smoke from the fire has been painting the neighborhoods surrounding this spot at Bushwick Inlet for a couple of days. I was able to smell it in Astoria just last night, and as one approached the spot in Greenpoint where the shots above were captured, it was inescapable and somewhat nauseating. Pictured above is what the scene looked like in 2013, incidentally, sans conflagration.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 2, 2015 at 12:30 pm

frantically begging

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Those cool firemen from Williamsburg, spotted in Blissville, Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator does like hisself a fire truck – and having never surrendered the childhood desire to run along the sidewalk screaming “firemen, firemen” when a fire truck goes by – when a Brooklyn based unit comes screaming out of a fire house in Blissville – it catches my eye. For some reason, 108 came out of the Ladder 128 house on Greenpoint Avenue – obviously on a call. My confusion is based on the fact that one normally expects Ladder 108 to deploy via Union Avenue in Brooklyn.

from nyfd.com

History: Ladder 108 Ladder Co. 108, now quartered at 187 Union Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, began life as Hook & Ladder Co. 8 in the old City of Brooklyn Fire Department at 112 Siegel Street near Graham Avenue on November 30, 1887. During this time, to be distinctive, the Brooklyn Fire Department used two-tone green on their apparatus, while F.D.N.Y. apparatus was red. Green continued to be used until consolidation of the five bouroughs in 1898. On January 1, 1898, Ladder Company became part of the Fire Department of the City of New York. It was renumbered as Ladder Company 58 on October 1, 1899. It was not until January 1, 1913, that Ladder 58 was renumbered as Ladder Company 108. In the 110 years of Ladder 108’s existence, two members lost their lives in the line of duty. A fire in Queens on March 2, 1905, took the life of Lt. George McGeary and 27 years later on May 2, 1932, Firefighter Joseph LaGrange was killed when Ladder 108 and Engine 213 collided responding to a false alarm and Firefighter LaGrange was thrown to the street. Ladder 108’s tenure at 112 Siegel Street lasted 84 years and on August 9, 1971, 108 truck moved to a new firehouse at 187 Union Avenue and is still quartered there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Of course, the ways and means and mores common to those “firemen, firemen” are many and complex, so no profit can be realized by analyzing their methods. Luckily, one had the opportunity to crack out a few shots of the hurtling ladder truck as it sped along past the walls of Calvary.

from wikipedia

FDNY Ladder Companies (also known as Truck Companies) are tasked with search and rescue, forcible entry, and ventilation at the scene of a fire. A Ladder Company can operate three types of Ladder Trucks: an Aerial Ladder Truck, equipped with a 100′ aerial ladder mounted at the rear of the apparatus; a Tower Ladder Truck, equipped with either a 75′ or 95′ telescoping boom and bucket mounted in the center of the apparatus; a Tractor Drawn Aerial Ladder Truck, or Tiller/Tractor Trailer, equipped with a 100′ aerial ladder. A Ladder Company carries various forcible entry, ventilation, and rescue tools to deal with an assortment of fires and emergencies, including motor vehicle accidents.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Can’t help but wonder where Ladder 128 was, maybe they loaded the truck up and drove to Florida for a vacation or something. I like the idea of a whole crew just taking off for a few days, pulling into 711 parking lots along I-95 for toilet breaks and microwave burritos. The random appearance of NYC vehicles in other parts of the country – a taxi or a police car for instance – would be positively dada.

from dnainfo.com

Police officers inside the 90th Precinct were in just the right spot for such an emergency — someone from the station house simply ran next door to report the fire to Battalion 35 Engine 216 and Ladder 108. The firehouse shares a city building on a Williamsburg block with the NYPD.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 25, 2014 at 11:00 am

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