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Both sides stand firm on shifting fire dispatching duties

No minds seemed to be changed Wednesday by an hourlong faceoff between the city Police Department and the Niagara County Sheriff's Department over which agency can better handle the city Fire Department's dispatching chores.

Aldermen Patrick W. Schrader and Joseph C. Kibler remain in favor of transferring the duties to the county, while Council President John Lombardi III wants the Police Department to take over. Lombardi, R-5th Ward, said he was not sure when the six Council members will vote on the issue.

"We're pretty much resigned to the fact that we'll be losing our dispatching," Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite said.

He favors using the Police Department, whose officers already answer all 911 calls in the city and press a button to relay them to the Fire Department if they involve a fire or request for an ambulance.

"For over a year, we dictated to the fire chief to work with the county. Now, as a last-minute gasp of breath, they're turning to the Police Department," charged Kibler, R-at large.

"To me it's a better option," Passuite said. "I've brought it up in the past, but I was always told the Police Department was next [to be switched to county dispatching]."

After the meeting, Passuite said he had raised the issue in 2001, when the city had a different mayor and several different aldermen.

Kibler denied the city plans to transfer police dispatching to the Sheriff's Department.

"That's another one of those many rumors," said Schrader, D-4th Ward. "We have not discussed that, just like we haven't discussed laying off 10 firemen. That's another rumor."

Sheriff's Capt. Thomas Beatty said the county's new dispatching center will be ready this summer, and more civilian dispatchers already are being hired. Plans call for 20 dispatchers, including 18 who will work full time.

He said the county paid all the technology costs for taking over North Tonawanda Fire Department dispatching last year and would do the same for Lockport.

But city Detective Lt. Richard L. Podgers ridiculed the offer of free dispatching services.

Beatty said he couldn't speak for the Legislature. "All I can tell you is, currently there are no charges and there has been no discussion that charges will be forthcoming," he said.

The county already takes about 1.6 percent of sales tax revenue, before distributions to municipalities, to pay for the enhanced 911 system. Podgers said that amount could be changed.

James C. Volkosh, county emergency management director, said the North Tonawanda Fire Department had to enter address information into county computers, such as the nearest intersection to every building and the boundaries of the city's five fire companies.

He said Lockport would be easier because it has only one fire company.

Although the Council directed Passuite early last year to start the transfer of dispatching to the county, Volkosh said no data has been entered.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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