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The Buffalo Fire Department, which has been operating without a permanent commissioner for nearly 10 months, lost its second-in-command Friday.

Margaret C. Keane, who became one of Buffalo's first female firefighters 24 years ago and the department's first female deputy commissioner, said "frustration" over the accelerated pace at which the city plans to downsize fire services played into her decision to retire.

"I'm a little concerned with the speed in which they want to make some of the changes," she said.

Keane, 55, hails from a South Buffalo family with lengthy ties to the Fire Department. Her brother-in-law, Cornelius J. Keane, served as commissioner for eight years.

Her husband, James P. Keane, was a firefighter before serving a 10-year stint on the Common Council. Her departure from the $89,372 post leaves another void in one of the city's key divisions.

But Mayor Anthony M. Masiello said he hopes to announce a new fire leadership lineup soon. His comments followed earlier speculation that he might extend the appointment of Michael D'Orazio as interim fire commissioner for an indefinite period -- possibly through 2005.

Word now that Masiello might be less than two weeks away from making key fire appointments came as welcome news to the state control board. The oversight panel has been prodding the mayor to name a permanent fire commissioner since Calvin G. Worthy left last December in protest of planned layoffs.

Control board members are worried the vacancy could delay the downsizing, a fear that Masiello has called unwarranted.

Board Chairman Thomas E. Baker has also urged the mayor to consider picking someone from outside the Fire Department to become commissioner, claiming a "change agent" is needed.

Control board spokesperson Nancy Brock released a statement reiterating the board's belief that filling the post is "a long awaited and necessary step."

But she said officials will make no further comments until the mayor makes his appointments.

Masiello lauded Keane as hard-working and dedicated.

"Margaret Keane is everything I thought she would be when I appointed her (deputy commissioner)," he said. "I'm proud of her tenure."

Keane's long-rumored retirement was triggered by several factors, including some "personal reasons," she said Friday. But she acknowledged that her concerns over the timing of proposed fire cuts played a role in her decision.

"There's a little frustration," she said. "There's frustration over the process we're going through with the downsizing."

A consultant's report released 13 months ago outlined a plan for overhauling fire services. About 125 firefighters would be eliminated through attrition and likely layoffs.

Eight buildings that house 10 fire companies would be closed, and several new firehouses would be built or expanded in more central spots.

Keane said the consultants recommended a four-year implementation plan. But the city accelerated the time line after the control board earlier this year called on officials to find ways to save money faster.

Keane said she plans to stay active in the debate over fire services by acting as a "non-paid consultant" to what she called an understaffed Fire Department administration.

"I'm not going to leave them high and dry. I want to stay involved in the issues that I've been working on," she said.


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