Fire Victim: “We Need To Look Out For One Another”

Bob Haggerty, whose house was nearly destroyed in a Lake Avenue fire on February 10, has a simple but powerful message for Sheepshead Bay residents: start giving a damn about your community.

During the Sheepshead Bay / Plumb Beach Civic Association Meeting last Tuesday, Haggerty took the floor to talk about the squalid conditions of a neighboring home – which he said belonged to a “slum lord” – that caught fire, spreading to his home while he napped inside. The legally blind Haggerty made it out safely and now lives up the block with his daughter until repairs can be made. But, the night of the fire, Haggerty and his daughter Melissa were incensed at their neighbor, cursing her out, and devastated by the city’s lack of action despite repeated complaints.

But on Tuesday night, Haggerty didn’t come to complain about the Department of Buildings or other city agencies for their lack of action.

Instead, he issued a warning to his neighbors to be more vigilant and persistent in keeping the neighborhood free of slum lords and criminals, because that’s what allows the city to be negligent.

“We have too many people all over the place not worrying about what the hell’s going on except what’s going on for themselves,” Haggerty said. “We need to be prepared to look out for one another.

“What happens if I had my children, my grandchildren, or even your grandchildren go down the tubes for some idiot?”

I’ve got to agree with Haggerty, who sees the problem as a larger societal issue, where people have become so disconnected with their communities that they’ve allowed it to rot from the inside out. Of all the five or so communities in Community Board 15 that Sheepshead Bites covers, Sheepshead Bay is the largest, yet has the weakest civic infrastructure, and the most tenuous connections between its many fragmented interests.

I won’t muse on the issue at length. I won’t harp. I’m just glad Haggerty said what he said, and, from my humble soapbox, say that in the three years I’ve spent covering Sheepshead Bay, his words hit spot on with my experiences. As much as neighbors may blame the mayor or the president or corporations or the economy or anything else, the truth is that so few of us feel rooted or invested in where we live, and fail to play a role in its success.

As Haggerty’s words imply, it’s time to take a stake in our neighborhood, and begin shaping its future.