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Lockport awarded $848K in federal aid to hire more firefighters

LOCKPORT – They might have come in handy this week, but four more firefighters are likely to be added to the City of Lockport payroll, in the wake of a federal grant announced Friday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved Lockport’s application for $848,368 in aid, enough to pay for the salaries and benefits of four firefighters for two years. However, they may not be ready for service until next year, Fire Chief Patrick K. Brady said.

His 34-member department was stretched to the limit by the fire that erupted Wednesday night at HTI Recycling, a tire recycling plant. The blaze was not yet extinguished as of late Friday and required mutual aid from 50 other fire companies.

Brady said the firefighters’ union contract contains a provision that new firefighters who aren’t state certified can’t join the force until two weeks before a new session begins at the state firefighting academy. A session started two weeks ago and the next one begins in February or March, Brady said.

If new firefighters haven’t been academy trained, “They’re not allowed to use an air pack. They’re not allowed to go into a burning building,” Brady said. Such employees also wouldn’t count toward the city’s minimum manning policy of six firefighters per shift.

City Civil Service Secretary Mary Pat Holz said three of the 12 firefighters the city laid off in 2012-13 still are on a priority callback list, although they have obtained jobs in other cities. But they have the first chance at the new jobs. Also, Holz said nine names are on the eligible list from a March civil service examination.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey issued a statement congratulating Brady and thanking the staffs of Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Chris Collins for helping with the application for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant.

McCaffrey did not support the application when the Common Council approved it on a 5-1 vote March 2. She said then that keeping the four firefighters on the payroll after the grant money runs out would cost about $424,000 a year, equivalent to a 4 percent property tax increase, unless the city can find more grants.

Aldermen who brushed McCaffrey’s objections aside in March were jubilant Friday.

“I am so happy,” said Alderwoman Anita Mullane, D-2nd Ward. “I’ve always had a platform of public safety, and I fought for this.”

Alderman Richard E. Abbott, D-5th Ward, said the grant “gives the city options in regard to contract negotiations, lowering overtime expenditures, improving firefighter safety and putting us in a position to handle future litigation decisions.” The city and the Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association are expected to head to state arbitration over a new union contract.

Alderman Mark S. Devine, R-3rd Ward, a retired assistant fire chief, said that almost all of the March applicants already have been certified as paramedics. “Probably all four we hire will be paramedics,” he said.

The city surrendered its state license to offer advanced life support services when it privatized ambulance service during its 2013 financial crisis. However, the Council has directed that an application be filed to restore that permission for firefighters who aid Twin City Ambulance at rescue calls. The city’s old ambulances were sold at auction earlier this year.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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