By Jill Colvin and Patrick Hedlund
MANHATTAN — Firefighters descended on Occupy Wall Street's Zuccotti Park encampment Friday morning, searching tents and confiscating generators and gasoline tanks.
It was the city's biggest incursion into the camp since the protest began more than a month ago.
“This morning, the FDNY, with the help of the police department, went into Zuccotti Park and notified everybody that it had come to our attention that there are cans of gasoline,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during his weekly radio appearance with WOR’s John Gambling.
“Fire hazards and safety hazards are against the law,” he said.
Bloomberg said that after asking the protesters to turn over the equipment, which many had been used for warmth in newly erected tents and tarps, firefighters went shelter to shelter, inspecting for compliance with safety rules.
In all, the teams collected six generators, said the mayor, who arrived to his weekly interview about 10 minutes late because of the raid, which involved 30 to 40 firefighters, he said. His office said there were also 13 cans of gas collected. Occupy Wall Street volunteers said four generators were taken.
"We've been in talks all this week about entering the park and conducting a legitimate inspection," an FDNY spokesman said.
"What they're looking for is fire hazards, particularly unauthorized use of generators, gas cans, cooking equipment, any non-compliance of fire department rules.
"It's the Fire Department commissioner working in conjunction with the NYPD and the fire prevention unit, and they're being assisted by local fire engines."
The search was carried out at about 8 a.m. Friday.
The mayor said that there was no trouble during the inspection.
“My understanding is everybody cooperated,” the mayor said. “Everybody was calm.”
Protesters agreed that the raid was peaceful, but claimed the sweep was designed to shut down the camp.
"Basically, it's a tactical solution by them," said Pauly Kostora, 27, who volunteers at the medical tent, where a generator was taken.
"It's the first cold night in New York, and they got us where it hurts."
He added that inspectors did not confiscate a propane-powered space heather at the tent.
Brian M., who volunteers at the camp's press center, said, "If they take our power, they take away our ability to communicate with other occupations.
"The timing was bad. They definitely caught us off guard," he said.
From now on, the protesters will be barred from bringing generators and gasoline into the park, said the mayor, who didn't say how the new rule would be enforced.
He said that authorities “would do exactly the same thing” if they were alerted to an unsafe situation in a private home or business.
Zuccotti is a private plaza owned by Brookfield Properties, but it's required by zoning rules to be open 24-hours a day.
Demonstrators waking up to the morning's frigid temperatures packed the camp's comfort tent, where everything from winter hats and gloves to jackets, pants, scarfs, thermal shirts and socks were handed out.
"We're doing the best we can," said Rafael Rosario, 47, who's been at the camp for three weeks and has volunteered at various posts. "Every day there's more and more people."
The tent quickly ran out of items like gloves.
"The weather has gotten colder, but the situation hasn't changed," Rosario added. "Every day there's a larger demand."