Five glistening fire engines cruised around Niagara Square on Monday, prompting some to wonder if they were part of a parade, or perhaps returning from an emergency.
In reality, the new vehicles were showcasing an ongoing overhaul of the city's Fire Department.
The American LaFrance engines that were delivered Monday are billed as cutting-edge vehicles capable of using foam to help fight fires. When two ladder trucks are delivered in February, the city will have invested $2.75 million in new emergency equipment.
Some firefighters have long complained about antiquated trucks, a claim that Fire Commissioner Michael L. D'Orazio didn't dispute.
"Our mechanics have done a wonderful job with Band-Aids over the years," he said.
But equipment upgrades are a key element of the departmental restructuring. D'Orazio said the city is starting a systematic replacement policy that will include an identical purchase of vehicles next year. Over the two-year period, about half of the department's front-line fleet will have been replaced.
The new engines were built by RD Murray, a Hamburg company that submitted the lowest bids for the apparatus. The city has earmarked millions of dollars in its capital budget to buy new fire equipment.
"This is a huge investment in the future of the Fire Department," said Mayor Anthony M. Masiello as he joined members of his Team Fire at a news conference on the steps of City Hall.
The new equipment arrived only a few weeks after the city opened its newest firehouse on Hertel Avenue, just east of Elmwood Avenue. The $2.8 million facility is part of a plan to downsize the department. Six firehouses will be closed and six others built or expanded at more centralized locations.
About two years ago, the city employed about 820 firefighters. Consultants have recommended shrinking the department to about 690. As of this fall, there were about 740 firefighters.