A Philadelphia firehouse across the street from a Quaker meeting house, which occupiers have been using as a home base throughout the Occupy National Gathering, gave occupiers access to their water once again this morning. The firefighters had initially granted occupiers access to the water, but had subsequently closed and locked a gate to block them from using it.
Steve Cottrell, one of the Occupy National Gathering organizers, realized early in the planning process that supplying occupiers with adequate hydration would be critical during the heat wave Philadelphia is currently experiencing. He went to the firehouse at 4th & Arch—Engine 8, Ladder 2, near Independence Mall and asked if they “could use the faucet on the side of their building to get water for the 4th of July event we were having on the Mall.”
Cottrell was referred to a captain at the firehouse who gave him permission to access the water.
On Saturday, June 30, Cottrell filled up containers twice during the day with no problem. A firefighter even came to talk with him. However, on Sunday morning, July 1, when Cottrell and a person with Occupy Delaware showed up to refill containers, the gate to the area where the faucet was located which had been opened, was now closed and padlocked.
The fire captain that had given Cottrell permission told him he would no longer be allowed to have access to the fire station’s water.
Cottrell reminded the captain he had given him permission to access the water. The captain replied that Cottrell didn’t inform him that he was with Occupy. Cottrell’s response to that was he did not ask — he had merely said that they were holding an event at Independence Mall, which was a “statement of fact.”
The captain said that the occupiers were not allowed as of today to use the water anymore. According to Cottrell, the captain said they had been “ordered” by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to not share water with occupiers.
The Dissenter published a widely shared post on this yesterday. Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Richard Negrin saw my coverage of this story and reacted on Twitter, “Focus on spreading your message NOT spreading your lies. Might get you somewhere. #FreeSpeech shouldn’t be False.”
In order to clarify exactly what happened, today I interviewed Cottrell and others (video above).
This morning it was reported by the Occupy National Gathering Twitter feed that the firefighters were going to let the Occupiers have access to their faucets once again. Cottrell and I went to the fire station to confirm this development. The padlock has indeed been removed from the gate, as you can see in these photos:
We were able to get into the gated area that had originally been closed and padlocked on Sunday morning so occupiers could not fill containers.
Cottrell and I walked into this gated area, which has a fountain and park benches where the public can come in and sit. He showed me the faucet that had been used on Saturday. Once again, he reiterated what had happened between him and the fire captain:
Then, he proceeded to fill a jug with water before we left the area.
Press Secretary Mark McDonald of the Mayor Nutter’s office, at 5:20 PM EST, denied that the office had “made any communication to anyone regarding water use in any form.”
I asked: “Can you confirm or deny whether anyone with the Mayor’s Office made a formal or informal communication to the firehouse—Engine 8, Ladder 2—and instructed them to formally or informally not share water from faucets on the firehouse?”
He said, “You’ve been told this before by the Managing Director, but I’m happy to repeat.” I took this to mean he communicated with Negrin (or someone in the Deputy Mayor’s office) before answering my question.
McDonald then proceeded to repeat the the same boilerplate talking points that were told to me by Negrin on Sunday: “There are hundreds of places with water fountains where the public can get a drink of water.”
However, to clarify, the story has never been about the city denying occupiers access to Philadelphia’s cooling centers, spraygrounds, etc. No occupiers at the National Gathering ever alleged the city was trying to completely deny access to city water. They were, however, prohibited from bringing water coolers to the gathering because officials claimed “they didn’t have a permit.”
The firehouse is one of the oldest firehouses in Philadelphia. It has just as much history as the Quaker meeting house, steeped in the social movements of the 1960s. As one Quaker Chris Goldstein, told me, the Quakers understand the humanity of this event, which is why they’ve opened the parking lot to the occupiers who are here currently.
In my opinion, the same can be said for the firefighters. They understand the humanity of the situation — people need water to avoid heat illnesses while they are outside. The decision to help Occupy is not necessarily an endorsement of Occupy. It is a good faith gesture that acknowledges how important it is for the occupiers to keep adequately hydrated in the extreme temperatures currently being experienced in Philadelphia. It was a reckless and potentially dangerous decision to deny public access to the water in the first place, and it is to the firefighters’ credit that they have decided to allow people to go fill up their containers once again until the National Gathering is over.