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FIRE COMPANY NEEDS FUNDING, SCHUMER SAYS

Lack of homeland security funding for Lewiston's Upper Mountain Fire Company, which would be the first responder at several potential terrorism targets, is a disaster waiting to happen, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday.

Citing critical threats in Upper Mountain's coverage area, Schumer demanded that federal and state officials provide crucial funds to the fire company.

Upper Mountain volunteers are on the front line in the war on terror, Schumer said. They are responsible for protecting sites that include the New York Power Authority's Niagara Plant, the plant's 20-billion-gallon reservoir, the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, Mount St. Mary's Hospital, a government storage site containing radioactive material from World War II and the largest hazardous waste landfill in the Northeast.

"If a catastrophic incident were to occur at one of these facilities, it is vitally important that our first responders have the resources to deal with the situation," Schumer said in a prepared statement.

Schumer is demanding immediate action from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the New York Power Authority.

Upper Mountain firefighters said they have received no federal or state funding since requesting it soon after Sept. 11, 2001.

"These volunteers are being asked to do an almost impossible task and they deserve to be heard by the federal government," Schumer said.

Fire Chief Lee Casper began expressing concerns last May when Niagara County received only $1.25 million of the $24 million in homeland security funding that was divided between Erie and Niagara counties.

The $1.25 million is to be divided among several law enforcement and other agencies, leaving only $400,000 to be split between 25 fire companies and two ambulance firms, said James C. Volkosh, the county's director of emergency services.

"Upper Mountain hasn't seen one red cent of that funding," said John Malinchock, assistant chief of Emergency Medical Services.

Assistant Fire Chief Jon Schultz said the company needs at least $1 million to meet the new homeland security demands, particularly in its role as first responder for the Power Authority's Niagara Plant.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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