Recently, the city administration and the state's fiscal control board have advocated a radical restructuring of the Buffalo Fire Department. One of the key problems with this proposal is that the citizens whose lives and safety are protected by the Fire Department have had no input into decisions crafted largely as a result of recommendations made by a consultant paid by the city administration, not composed by an independent reorganization commission.
I use the term radical because the plan currently before the Common Council would greatly diminish fire and emergency medical services provided by our dedicated fire personnel, despite continued high demand for such services. Is it just a coincidence that the two top command officers in the Fire Department -- Commissioner Calvin Worthy and Deputy Commissioner Margaret Keane -- have both recently resigned in protest over the severity of the proposed restructuring?
The radical reform plans continue regardless of the papable threat that exists from a terrorist strike at one of our border crossings, a major hazardous materials incident in one of our rail yards or on the interstate highways, or a serious high-rise fire in a building in the downtown business core. How would the Fire Department respond to one or more of these incidents with greatly reduced manpower?
The reality is that the proposed departmental cutbacks would leave the fire service unable to tactically respond to multiple incidents of two alarms or greater severity. In plain language, two serious fire or disaster incidents occurring simultaneously would exhaust the on-duty capacity of the Fire Department to respond to other incidents or fires in our city. For a time, fire and EMS response would be greatly delayed or nonexistent.
The consultant's plan advocated, for example, the downgrading of the Fire Department's heavy rescue and haz-mat units via elimination of the full-time staffing of Rescue Company No. 1. In addition, the following fire companies would be closed and their equipment placed out of service: Ladder 5, Ladder 13, Engine 19 and Engine 24.
The results of these drastic measures would be that fire and EMS protection would be fatally compromised. Fire and EMS protection in Black Rock and portions of the Upper West Side and North Buffalo would be greatly diminished. The downgrading of Rescue Company No. 1 to part-time status would mean delayed response to major fires and hazardous materials incidents.
The idea that the Fire Department is overstaffed is very misleading. In 1970, when the city's population was nearly 500,000, the department numbered more than 1,400 positions. In 2004, with the city's population around 300,000, the department numbers almost 800. That amounts to a 43 percent reduction in available manpower and is consistent with the decline in the city population.
Fire and police protection are the most essential services that city government provides. Reject the reform plan and maintain our public safety net.
Craig E. Speers was a member of the City of Buffalo Police Reorganization Commission from 1991 to 1997.