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The turning point may have come last month when Buffalo firefighters union President David Donnelly publicly chastised the city for adopting a new garbage user fee.

Within days, Common Council members were talking privately about taking Donnelly on by reversing their opposition to controversial new fire trucks that the union also opposes.

The new trucks, first proposed by the Masiello administration, would save the city an estimated $5 million a year by reducing the number of firefighters at each firehouse.

The firefighters union has fought the plan from Day 1, claiming the trucks are ineffective and unsafe. The union has threatened to keep its members from riding them.

Council members rejected the "quint-midi" trucks during budget time last year.

However, angry over Donnelly's public criticism of them on the garbage fee, some are now ready to resurrect the idea.

"At the Council's insistence, we'll revisit the issue," Mayor Masiello said Friday.

Masiello said he has been approached by several Council members who now are willing to support the plan.

After hearing of Donnelly's opposition to the user fee, North Council Member Dale Zuchlewski said he immediately phoned a colleague and offered to support the quint-midi plan.

"I said, 'Count me in' ," Zuchlewski recalled. "For the life of me, I can't figure out how a city employee would be against the user fee."

The Council's chief backer of the quint-midi thinks the idea will have enough support to pass as part of next year's budget. He said Council members are motivated by one of two things -- Donnelly's criticism of them and an eagerness to find a way of cutting costs because of the outcry over the garbage fee.

"The seven votes will be there," said University Council Member Kevin Helfer.

Council President James W. Pitts, who still has questions about the quint-midi, thinks the idea may gain support because of public reaction to the garbage fee.

"I think that's the impetus," Pitts said. "But whatever we do, there's no way we can do anything until budget time."

Helfer thinks the administration may act before then by submitting a plan that forces the union to arbitrate the issue.

The union has successfully challenged past attempts at reducing the number of firefighters on each truck. Even supporters think the union's cooperation is essential to making the plan work.

"We are still studying the concept," said Fire Commissioner Cornelius Keane. "But without union support, it would be extremely difficult."

Donnelly could not be reached to comment Friday, but he has argued that the new trucks are ineffective and will endanger the lives of firefighters.

"I don't care what they do with them," he said last year. "They can drive them to work if they want, but we're not going out on them."

Under the quint-midi plan, all engine and ladder combinations in double company firehouses would be replaced by a combination of quint and midi trucks.

A quint performs five firefighting functions now handled by a pumper company and ladder company. A midi is a compact version of the department's standard-size pumper.

The Masiello administration would like to use quints in combination with the midi pumper trucks as a way of reducing staffing costs. Combining the two vehicles into one firehouse would allow the city to drop two firefighters from the normal firehouse crew of eight.

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