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QUINT-MIDI PUTS KEANE AT ODDS WITH FIREFIGHTERS

When Mayor Masiello plucked 31-year veteran Cornelius Keane from the ranks and made him fire commissioner, front-line firefighters cheered the appointment.

Today, they won't even talk to Keane.

One reason is quint-midi, a new firefighting concept and one of the single biggest cost-saving reforms pushed by the Masiello administration.

So far, the idea has gone nowhere fast. Yes, Masiello and Keane back the idea, but finding anyone else within the 892-member Fire Department who shares their view is difficult, almost impossible.

Keane's highest-ranking commanders, from battalion chiefs to deputy commissioners, openly oppose him over quint-midi. Tension and divisiveness pervade the department.

"It's dead," said North Council Member Dale L. Zuchlewski, a quint-midi supporter. "They can blow taps on the idea."

A quint is a versatile fire truck capable of performing five functions now done by two trucks -- an engine and ladder. It has a crew of four. A midi is a mid-sized pumper that requires a crew of only two.

That's where the savings are. All trucks now require a crew of four.

The consequences are immense. At stake is about $5 million a year in savings for a city looking desperately to cut costs and balance its budget.

Zuchlewski said Keane is backing off the idea. He attributes Keane's reluctance to widespread opposition. From rank-and-file firefighters to upper management, quint-midi has been fought each step of the way.

The reasons range from public safety to a loss of union jobs. About 100 positions would be cut if quint-midi were adopted throughout the city.

"It would be a logistical nightmare," Division Chief George Coates said. "It would undermine everything we do."

Coates, one of the department's top managers, describes quint-midi as the current firefighting fad and questions the logic behind it. He said it would cause dangerous delays and confusion at the scene of a fire.

By reducing the number of trucks sent to a fire, the city would reduce its flexibility at the scene. He also wonders why the city has no plan on how to make quint-midi operational.

"I think it's worse than closing fire houses," Coates said.

Keane acknowledged the opposition.

"I'm reluctant to move forward," Keane said. "There does not seem to be any will to implement quint-midi."

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Keane: Commissioner felt snubbed at benefit
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Tension between Keane and rank-and-file firefighters is at an all-time high.

Last July, firefighters organized a benefit for Donald Herbert, a firefighter who was injured when the roof of a burning home collapsed on top of him.

Keane said the union chose not to invite him and his deputies. They bought tickets anyway. And when they showed up, people ignored them, Keane said.

"I was personally insulted," he said. "But that's the kind of tension we've had."

Adding to the tension is the death this month of Firefighter Michael Seguin, the first fire-related death since 1990. Seguin died as he carried a hose to the attic of a house on Kehr Street.

City officials acknowledge privately that Keane has lost close friends over quint-midi. He fought fires for 30 years and, as part of a firefighting family, thrived on the camaraderie and loyalty of a closely knit department.

Keane rose through the ranks, worked nearly every job in the department and acquired a reputation as a firefighter's firefighter. When Masiello took office, Keane was the union's choice for fire commissioner.

Today, he's a lone wolf, the only official within the department who supports the mayor's push for change.

So, wary of taking on a fight it might very well lose, the Masiello administration is backing off quint- midi.

"It's a fight they don't want to fight right now," said University Council Member Kevin J. Helfer, a quint-midi supporter. "That message is coming back loud and clear."

Helfer would like to start a pilot project to decide once and for all if quint-midi works. He wonders if it's a waste of time.

"It doesn't make me real comfortable when upper management says we don't want to do it, we won't do it," he said.

Budget officials have pushed quint-midi but find themselves faced with overwhelming opposition from the Fire Department management team.

"They won't work on them, and they won't let their guys work on them," Budget Director James B. Milroy said.

The appeal of quint-midi lies in the cost savings, namely the reduction in firefighters. But that loss of firefighters is at the heart of the union's opposition.

"Firefighters put out fires, not concepts or equipment," said David Donnelly, who recently stepped down as union president.

Over and over, city officials point to Rochester as a city that successfully adopted quint-midi without incident.

Even union officials concede its success.

"Many years ago, the union took the position that it couldn't work," said Joe Montesano, president of the Rochester firefighters union. "But I can't say it hasn't worked. I've seen no negatives."

For Montesano, the alternative was firehouse closings.

Keane fears the same thing. Elmira cut its department by 45 percent in one year, he said, and Utica cut a third of its firefighters.

For that reason, Keane wants to keep quint-midi alive.

"I want to move slowly," he said. "I may ask the Common Council to do a pilot project next year."

If Keane follows through, he will do it alone.

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