BAY RIDGE — Hundreds of Bay Ridge civic leaders, their friends and families gathered at the Dyker Beach Golf Club on Thursday, Sept. 26 to offer a well-deserved bravo to BRAVO Volunteer Ambulance on its 45th anniversary.
BRAVO was founded in 1974 when ambulance response times in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton communities could exceed one hour. A handful of civic leaders at the time decided that something had to be done to remedy the situation and after holding numerous meetings in private homes, they came up with the concept for BRAVO.
After watching the John Wayne movie “Rio Bravo,” Hank Vogt, the chairperson of Community Board 10 at the time, thought it would be a perfect name for a volunteer service that would provide swift and effective emergency medical response. After all, Vogt thought, who could be a better role model than America’s pioneer John Wayne?
With the help of then-State Sen. Bill Conklin, former Assemblymembers Bob Kelly and Chris Mega, and then-U.S. Rep. Hugh Carey, BRAVO was able to obtain its certificates and begin operating. As a result, Bay Ridge Ambulance Volunteer Organization (BRAVO) was born.
The event’s co-chairs were BRAVO President Tony Napoli and his wife Diane, and this year’s honorees were former State Sen. Marty Golden and community leader Chip Cafiero, both longtime supporters of BRAVO.
Napoli welcomed guests, recalling that he first joined BRAVO in 1975 and has worked with the organization ever since. “We thank all of our supporters for allowing us to continue to grow with the community,” said Napoli. “Our skills may save you but our hearts and passion will keep you alive. I am and forever will be grateful for the love and affection shown to our patients by BRAVO volunteers and volunteers throughout the world.”
Golden served communities including Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Marine Park as state senator between 2003 and 2018, and represented Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst in the City Council from 1998 till his election to the Senate.
Golden, a former New York City police officer, sponsored thousands of bills in the Senate focused on public safety, tax cuts, economic development, education and senior citizen quality of life.
Emil (Chip) Cafiero is a community activist who has spent his whole life in Bay Ridge. He’s been involved with a number of community organizations over the last 45 years, most notably as the event manager of the Third Avenue Festival. He also created and ran the Fifth Avenue Festival and the 86th Street Bensonhurst Festival since their formation 25 years ago.
Among those at the dinner were State Sen. Andrew Gounardes and City Councilmember Justin Brannan.
Brannan said that he spent time on BRAVO’s board and called it a bedrock institution in the neighborhood. “For me, as a kid who grew up in Bay Ridge, I don’t think I’ve ever lived in an apartment that didn’t have the classic “Call BRAVO 718-680-1111” sticker on a cabinet door or a magnet on the fridge. It’s ingrained in our heads. The work they do is fantastic and I was proud to serve on their board of directors as a fledgling community activist. I learned a lot.”
Brannan presented Golden and Cafiero with a City Council proclamation, adding, “Tonight we have two honorees that are equally pillars and institutions in this community.”
Napoli called Golden one of the most influential lawmakers in the city and the state of New York. “That you already know, but what you don’t know is that he’s been a deep-rooted supporter of BRAVO from the very beginning. He’s always done his best to keep BRAVO’s name upfront and present,” Napoli added.
Golden thanked his wife Colleen and his family, and explained that he and Cafiero grew up right around the block from each other. “I used to go out there and pick on his sister and Chip would try to catch me. He couldn’t catch me then and he still can’t catch me now,” said Golden.
“BRAVO is important and we need to advance BRAVO’s mission and we need to advance volunteers into BRAVO so that we can give our young men and women that mission of giving back to our community,” he added.
Napoli said that everyone in the Bay Ridge community knows Cafiero primarily because of his involvement in so many organizations for the past 45 years. “He has always shown himself to be trustworthy and compassionate,” said Napoli, “and I am proud to call him my friend.”
Cafiero joked that he was responsible for Golden’s success in politics because “I taught him how to run. He’s been running from me since he was four years old, and I caught you a few times,” Cafiero added, speaking to Golden.
“This is the first time that we’re being honored together and it’s really been my honor to have been partners with you for all these years in all the events and projects we’ve done,” Cafiero continued.