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Small fireboat sought to back up Cotter

As the region looks ahead to a revitalized waterfront, Buffalo's new fire commissioner thinks it's time to get another fireboat.

The city's historic fireboat -- the Edward M. Cotter -- is a "great" vessel, Commissioner Michael S. Lombardo said, but adds the 118-foot-long boat isn't capable of dealing with some fires. He's looking into the possibility of trying to snare grants to buy a second, smaller fireboat.

"We have nothing in the water today that has firefighting capabilities in small marinas," Lombardo said. "We could do more damage to people's boats than a fire would."

Built in 1899, the 200-ton vessel is the nation's -- and perhaps the world's -- oldest active fireboat. Named after a longtime firefighter union president, the Cotter has played major roles in fighting explosions and fires at the Husted grain mill and elevator in 1913, the General Mills cereal plant in 1940, the Maple Leaf Mill in Port Colborne, Ont., in 1960 and the Pillsbury mill in the early 1970s. It is also used as an icebreaker on the Buffalo River.

Lombardo made it clear that he wouldn't expect the city to finance the purchase of a vessel that would likely cost about $229,000. He believes the city might able to obtain grants for such a purchase.

Mayor Byron W. Brown's new administration has identified landing more grants for various initiatives as a priority. A one-person Division of Urban Affairs has been created to focus on the task.

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, whose district includes a stretch of the waterfront, thinks it's critical to review fire safety there. Kearns said there are "preliminary discussions" under way about the possibility of locating one of three new planned firehouses closer to the waterfront.

He noted that hundreds of millions of dollars in shoreline development is planned, including new marinas, retail, entertainment, housing and public access projects.

"We have to be forward thinking when it comes to public safety," said Kearns. "We need to plan 30 and 40 years into the future, making sure we can provide the kind of services that our waterfront will need."

Kearns met with other city officials Friday at the Cotter's berth in the Buffalo River near the Michigan Avenue bridge. He also supports efforts to try to acquire a second fireboat. With two vessels of different sizes, Kearns believes fire crews would be able to respond to emergencies in virtually any waterfront setting.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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