NIAGARA FALLS – An official of the Niagara Falls Fire Department said this week that the scheduled end of Niagara County’s Healthy Neighborhoods Program would put a major crimp in the city’s efforts to place smoke detectors in more homes.
The program is to end April 25, after the state Health Department rejected the county’s application for a five-year renewal of the grant that funded the effort.
County Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said the state decided to fund healthy neighborhood programs in 20 counties, and Niagara County’s application was scored 21st despite a history that goes back to 1997 and a record of winning state awards for effectiveness.
The county had sought a five-year grant for nearly $200,000 a year. Stapleton said his understanding is that, once denied funding, the county won’t be able to reapply for five more years.
Stapleton said he’s been calling state and county lawmakers, but so far it doesn’t look good for saving the program.
“I’ve written to every legislator around here, but it doesn’t look too good,” agreed Al Hornung, fire and life safety educator for the Fire Department,
Three county workers are to be laid off when the program ends, since their jobs were dependent on continued state money.
State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, said he’s trying to set up a meeting on the issue with a deputy commissioner of the state Health Department next week in Albany to make his argument for renewed funding.
Hornung said that the county’s technicians installed hundreds of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in Falls residences.
“I went to a program [in 2011] where I got 300 free smoke alarms,” Hornung said. “Healthy Neighborhoods put up 292 of them for me. … I just don’t have the time to do it.” Checking for dangerous conditions, such as a lack of fire alarms, is part of the program’s assignment. Its workers also were on the lookout for lead-based paint and other unhealthy or dangerous conditions.
Most of the program’s work was done in Niagara Falls’ poorest neighborhoods, but it had worked in Olcott and was planning to expand into the cities of Lockport and North Tonawanda and into mobile home parks in the Town of Lockport this year.
Hornung said program coordinator Teresa McCabe often sat beside him at school fire safety events, telling children how to be safer. She also was a regular at events involving senior citizens.
Maziarz said the program was important to the Falls’ low-income communities. Only 22 percent of the residences in the city are owner-occupied.
“You’ve got a lot of transients,” he said. “People who are tenants are never going to buy carbon monoxide detectors.”
“We have the highest heart disease rate in the state,” Maziarz added. “What’s going on in those other counties that’s not going on here?”
Stapleton said he will try to keep some of the work going with county funding, but the Health Department budget has taken heavy cuts in recent years to nonmandated programs.