By Sonja Sharp and Tom Liddy
MANHATTAN — Occupy Wall Street protesters are putting the heat on the FDNY after the fire department confiscated the group's generators last week from Zuccotti Park, according to a letter from the group.
The demonstrators, represented by attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild, said that the confiscation of six generators as well as fuel on Friday morning was merely a pretext by the city to begin dismantling their Lower Manhattan encampment, which has been in place since Sept. 17.
"Contrary to the Mayor’s public justifications, the seizures were not motivated by health or safety concerns," said the note, dated Oct. 29, to FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano. "Instead, it appears the City is trying to end the occupation illegally by creating a public health risk."
Specifically, the letter said that the "notices of confiscation" provided by the city "provide no justification, legal or otherwise, for the seizures. Nor do they adequately describe the seized materials, nor provide information as to how the owners may get the property back."
And the attorneys said that the move couldn't have come at a worse time — a day before a record-setting freak snowstorm slammed Central Park with driving winds and nearly three inches of snow.
"Without articulating any identifiable hazard posed by the generators, the City removed a source of heat for hundreds of people one day before the correctly predicted onset of freezing temperatures and snow," the letter said.
"The City’s removal of the generators is nothing more than a pretext for violating the First Amendment rights of the Liberty Park occupiers by literally freezing them out."
Gideon Oliver, one of the signatories, said that the lack of heat made it very tough for the protesters to ride out the storm.
"They couldn’t even heat water," he said.
The letter demands the return of the "illegally seized property," which includes biodiesel and diesel generators, according to Oliver, who added that he had not received a response from the department as of Sunday.
FDNY spokesman Jim Long said that the department is "asking for time to review the fax and request."
Protesters struggled to deal with the cold, messy conditions that the storm generated, which soaked clothing and sent three people to the hospital with hypothermia, they said.
Josh Ehrenberg, 20, of Rochester, said the protesters were trying to deal with an enormous amount of wet clothing.
"We're going to try to set up a comfort station a little ways away with towels and clothes so people can get all the way dry," said Ehrenberg, who stayed the night at his grandparents' place in Chelsea.
"There is a great desire to stay here that will overcome a lot of bad weather and hypothermia. I hope nobody dies, but I wouldn't be surprised."
Demonstators were preparing to send loads of laundry to The Bronx to be cleaned — some $1,500 worth.
They also said that the situation got pretty tense in the thick of the storm, the heavy snow from which caused tents to collaspse.
"There were a lot of angry people," said Lauren Digioia, most recently from Clifton, NJ. "But people today are looking at it and saying, 'We made it through the first test.' The world was looking at us asking 'What are you going to do when it snows?' Well, we're still here."
The group had a little help along the way from warming stations at St. Paul's church and other nearby places as well as a woman's $20,000 donation of snow gear from Modell's, Digioia said.
They also decided to form a "spokescouncil" comprised of leaders of the non-hierarchical organization's different working groups in order to quickly make decisions without consulting the general assembly.
Melissa Milliron, 25, of Tallahassee, FL, said that her body temperature plumeted to 93.3 on Saturday night.
"They took care of me and a bunch of other people as well. People were just sick from the cold," she said.
"But the able bodies were circulating stew, rice, even hot coffee. It was really awesome to see. I think if we have the right supplies, we can pull it through the winter."
The group's medical personnel said that the storm caught them off guard, but protesters were emboldened by making it through their first, early test of winter.
"We got most of the people last night who were hurting," said Seth Knight, 23, who works in the medical tent. "People are in high spirits today. We need our generator back. It'll help a lot in the winter."