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CITY RESIDENTS AT HEARING OPPOSE MERGER OF FIRE STATIONS

A city plan to consolidate two North Buffalo fire stations into a central location on Hertel Avenue near Elmwood Avenue has residents in the Black Rock and Riverside sections seeing red.

More than two dozen residents turned out Monday night at a public hearing to oppose merging Ladder 12 at Grant and Amherst streets and Engine 36 at Great Arrow Avenue and Elmwood.

Under the plan, a new three-bay firehouse would be opened on property on Hertel east of Elmwood that formerly was the location of a McDonald's restaurant.

The land is owned by Benderson Development Co. but would be traded for a city property at Delaware Avenue and Allen Street.

Residents questioned city leaders and representatives from the Buffalo fire task force about the impact of such a move on fire protection.

They raised concerns about response times and traffic, and questioned the city's motives.

"They're building to protect North Buffalo better than they are residents this way," said Tim Lyman, vice president of the Grant-Amherst Block Watchers, motioning in the direction of Black Rock and Riverside.

Caleb Basiliko of Amherst Street, who lives a half-block from Ladder 12, said the heavy traffic on Elmwood would not only hinder firefighters' ability to get to a call quickly, but also would shift the station outside its four-minute response target for areas of Riverside.

Not so, according to city administrators and members of a citizens task force that devised the plan based on recommendations from a Massachusetts consultant.

"We're confident they can get there in the allotted time . . . four minutes," said Michael L. D'Orazio, deputy fire commissioner.

Other firefighters, including several from Ladder 12 and the leadership of the firefighters union, disagreed with D'Orazio.

"This is the worst-covered area in the city today -- wait until they close more. It's going to get worse," said Joseph E. Foley, union president. "Every time we close a company, the risk of (firefighters' lives) goes up tenfold.

"We're not going to be doing a better job, we're going to be doing a cheaper job -- there's a difference."

Judy Shanley, a member of the citizens task force, said union leaders put an end to firefighters' cooperating with the task force during its planning process.

"It was not OK for (firefighters) to work with us," Shanley said. "What we really needed was participation, and it wasn't available to us."

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., who set up the meeting, defended the motives of the city and the task force. But he said he still intends to vote against the plan at this afternoon's Common Council meeting.

"I don't think it's one neighborhood versus another neighborhood," Golombek said. "My whole concern with that Hertel-area site is I don't think they're going to get out quickly enough."

Golombek "didn't see enough" to change his mind on the issue Monday. He suggested that other sites, such as the Cantalician Center near the Northwest District police station, might be a better option for the city. "They might have worked really hard and didn't come up with the best site possible," he said.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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