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The city's fiscal troubles have turned Fire Chief William Correa into a value shopper, even for firefighting equipment.

He snagged his most recent bargain last week when the Fire Department purchased a 1979 Ward LaFrance pumper truck for $10,000 from the Wilson Volunteer Fire Company.

"A new pumper would have cost at least $200,000 on the low end, without a lot of bells and whistles," Correa said. "When we heard Wilson bought a new truck and was selling this one, I sent our mechanics out to look, and we bought it. It's in excellent condition and only has 17,000 miles on it."

Correa, who has been fire chief for about 14 months, said that last year the department purchased a heavy-duty used ladder truck for $175,000 from a dealer in Pennsylvania. "This truck only had 12,000 miles on it," and a new one would have cost $450,000, he said.

Of course, Correa said he would prefer to buy new equipment, but he has little choice.

"I have to find alternative ways to upgrade our equipment because the city's in no financial condition to buy new (trucks)," he said.

"We should get five years front-line use out of the Wilson engine," Correa said. "That should buy the city some recovery time" until it can afford some new equipment, hopefully in a couple of years.

The Wilson pumper will replace a 1961 fire engine that had accumulated 230,000 miles. The 1992 aerial truck replaced a 1984 truck that will be kept as a reserve vehicle. The department got rid of a 1960 ladder truck.

"I had to do something," Correa said. "We couldn't go on using 1960s vehicles that were literally falling apart and were not designed to carry all the equipment and personnel required by state and national regulations," Correa said.

While the two fire trucks are newer, Correa said they will last only a few years as front-line vehicles at fires. Once the city can afford new equipment, they, too, will become backup or support vehicles.

"They are quaility reserve pieces of equipment," he said. "If we did nothing, the rigs we have would break down. Then, if we had a major fire, I wouldn't have anywhere to put my men, and we'd have to ask the city for a couple hundred thousand dollars," Correa said.

He said the pumper is being prepared in the city maintenance building on New Road.

The name of the Wilson Volunteer Fire Company on the truck has to be removed and replaced with that of the Niagara Falls Fire Department.

He said the engine should be ready to use in about three weeks.

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