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State report says Lockport firefighter cuts are not a safety violation

LOCKPORT – The Lockport Fire Department was flagged for four employee safety violations in a state report issued this week, but its reduction of staffing levels was not among them.

Three of the four violations pertained to the absence of “bailout kits” for firefighters who have to jump out a window, but that problem soon will be solved, because the kits are included in the new air packs the city will be buying with a federal grant.

The fourth violation was the absence of a mechanism to keep the firehouse’s overhead doors from closing if something – or someone – happens to be beneath the door at the time.

But the report from the state Labor Department’s Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau says the financially strapped city’s reduction of fire department minimum manning levels from nine to six firefighters per shift did not create a safety violation, Chief Patrick K. Brady told the Fire Board Thursday.

The Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association, the firefighters’ union, sought the inspection last September, about the time the staffing cutbacks took effect. The inspector visited Sept. 23, but the report wasn’t sent to the city until Monday, Brady said.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said the report showed the minimum staffing level “has not fallen to the level where it’s impossible to maintain ‘two in and two out.’ ”

That’s the policy that says if two firemen enter a burning building, two more firefighters must be outside at the ready in case the first two get in trouble. McCaffrey said the city considered that point before instituting the cutbacks.

The bailout kits, Brady said, are 50 feet of rope or webbing folded inside the air pack frame. A firefighter can hook it to a windowsill or something solid inside a building to enable him to get to the ground safely if his life is endangered by advancing flames he can’t repel. If he’s more than 50 feet off the ground, the rope might help him get to a safer level where he can be rescued, Brady said.

Last month, the city was approved for a $128,000 federal grant that will buy 40 new breathing cylinders and 20 new air pack frames and sets of air gauges with trouble alarms. Brady told the board the new units will include the bailout kits. The Labor Department ordered the city to get them by Sept. 23 and train firemen in their use by Nov. 6.

Brady said a committee of firefighters soon will select the vendor for the units, and they should be on hand in time to prevent the city from being fined $200 a day.

The garage door opener problem involves the purchase of “electric eyes” for the five overhead doors. “We’ve never had them in place, ever,” McCaffrey said.

The city now faces a June 30 state deadline to install them, and Chief Building Inspector Jason Dool, who now is in charge of building maintenance, is shopping for them, Brady said.

“If someone is walking under the door, there’s nothing to stop the door. It just comes down,” Brady said.

The state inspector also took air samples inside the fire department’s ready room and kitchen because of concerns from some firefighters that asbestos lingers there following abatement projects in the building. The tests found no asbestos. Brady said it’s the third time such air tests have been done, all with the same result.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com