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D'ORAZIO FACES EASY CONFIRMATION BY COUNCIL

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's choice for fire commissioner faces easy confirmation by the Common Council, but received only a tepid endorsement from the state financial control board.

Masiello announced his "Team Fire" on Thursday, introducing four people who will play key roles in reducing the size of the Fire Department. The commissioner-designate and one new deputy are veterans of the department, while two other deputies are out-of-state experts.

Masiello defended his nomination of Michael L. D'Orazio for commissioner, a job he has held on an interim basis since last December when Calvin G. Worthy stepped down in protest of planned layoffs.

The mayor was under pressure from some control board members to name an outsider to head the department. D'Orazio has been in the Fire Department for 20 years, serving as a lieutenant before being promoted to deputy commissioner in 2002.

The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority issued what some considered a lukewarm endorsement of Masiello's actions.

"(The control board) wanted a strong change agent for the Fire Department to implement the mayor's plan for restructuring," the board said in a statement. "Nonetheless, we commend the mayor for establishing a permanent leadership team, which blends fresh ideas from outside with local experience. We look for quick movement on the restructuring plan so vital to preserving the city's building stock and its fiscal health."

Masiello, a member of the control board, said he has no problem with the statement.

"I'll take a lukewarm endorsement, because we'll make it warmer over time," he said. "They're going to see the talents and experience of this team."

The city plans to reduce its firefighting force by about 125 personnel by next fall. D'Orazio said that he hopes to shrink the department through attrition but added that "there very well could be" some layoffs. The changes include closing some old firehouses and consolidating others in more central locations. New equipment would also be purchased, officials said, including "cutting edge" fire engines that are capable of using foam to help fight fires.

Masiello and his new appointees emphasized their past involvement in implementing changes in fire services.

J. Gregory Love, a retired executive deputy fire commissioner in Detroit, said he was involved in some downsizing efforts in that city. Love will become deputy commissioner for field operations.

David C. James, a retired administrator from the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department in Florida, has experience overseeing emergency medical services. As deputy commissioner here, he will focus on EMS calls, which make up about three-quarters of all Fire Department responses.

Garnell W. Whitfield Jr., a 20-year veteran who is chief fire administrator of Buffalo's department, will become deputy commissioner for support services.

The deputies will begin Dec. 1 and will each make $89,372. Under a fire restructuring already being implemented, consultants recommended a management overhaul that would make each deputy responsible for key units.

Masiello has the sole authority to appoint the deputies, but D'Orazio's appointment must be approved by lawmakers. Council leaders predicted that the confirmation process would be fast-tracked and that D'Orazio's appointment would be approved during Wednesday's meeting.

Council Majority Leader Marc A. Coppola of the Delaware District said he likes Masiello's "Team Fire" approach to major changes in the Fire Department.

"I think it's the best of both worlds," Coppola said. "You have people who know the culture of the department and the landscape of the city, but you also have people from the outside with extensive experience."

The head of a citizens task force created by Masiello to help steer the Fire Department restructuring also endorsed the appointments. Judy Shanley thinks that the mayor's lengthy delay in assembling the management team was worth the wait.

"There's a sense that this is the right time, these are the right people, and this is where we should be," she said.

Officials from the firefighters' union could not be reached to comment on the appointments. Many firefighters have been critical of the restructuring, contending that the city is moving too quickly to downsize the department. D'Orazio said he does not share that belief.

"If I thought we were moving at the wrong pace," he said, "I wouldn't be standing here today."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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