FIREHOUSE CLOSING PUT OFF UNTIL AT LEAST JAN. 1 - The Buffalo News

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FIREHOUSE CLOSING PUT OFF UNTIL AT LEAST JAN. 1

Only hours after announcing that Rescue Fire Company on Strad Avenue would close this weekend, Mayor David J. Burgio Wednesday night reversed his decision and said it would remain open until at least Jan. 1.

Burgio, who has said he intended to close a firehouse after the Common Council reduced Fire Department overtime in the 2004 budget, instructed Fire Chief Gregory Frank on Wednesday afternoon to close Rescue Fire Company on Saturday.

Word of the planned closing traveled quickly, bringing an overflow crowd to Wednesday evening's Council meeting. Burgio was blasted for more than an hour by angry residents who voiced concerns for their safety.

"I live right down the street from Rescue Fire Hall. I demand public safety, and you are taking it away from me," said Peter Chenier. "Maybe you ought to resign and give the city a fair chance."

Burgio said the closing is necessary to control soaring overtime costs. He said $75,000 was budgeted for Fire Department overtime this year, but $150,000 has already been spent and an additional $25,000 will be spent by year's end.

"I have to stop the drain on overtime," Burgio said.

Several Council members attacked Burgio for not discussing the closing with them before Wednesday's meeting. Council President Catherine Schwandt said she did not learn of the closing until minutes before the meeting, when she noticed Council chambers filling with residents and firefighters.

After several residents criticized Burgio during the Council meeting, Schwandt called on him to delay the closing until at least Jan. 1 while alternative cost-saving measures for the Fire Department could be considered.

After the Council meeting and talking with Council members and Fire Department officials, Burgio said he would keep Rescue Fire Company open for the remainder of the year.

Several Council members pledged to find savings in the Fire Department.

Burgio will be forced to close one firehouse on Jan. 1 when the 2004 budget takes effect unless extra revenue is found.

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