On 9/1 1, people got a personal perspective of the life and death of a firefighter. A firefighter by definition is a person who faces the odds of life and death for others when called upon.
I know because I am an aircraft rescue firefighter. As union president, I represent 35 firefighters at Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Those who have wondered why people jumped from windows on 9/1 1 instead of attempting to make their way through the burning debris should take into account the heat that was generated.
My union members are specifically trained to deal with fire caused by aviation fuel. Fire made up of normal combustibles will burn at 500 degrees. Aviation fuel burns at temperatures beyond 2000 degrees. Airplanes may carry 70,000 pounds of this fuel.
All firefighters deserve the honor and respect of the people they serve. No one becomes a firefighter believing he or she is going to become independently wealthy. They do it because of an inner respect and honor for all people. It is their calling to protect and serve, at all cost. They put at risk not only their own lives, but the futures of their families. The minds of people who are called upon to fight at times insurmountable odds must be free of worry that their loved ones will be adequately provided for if today is the day they lose the fight.
The problem is that these people are not the type to toot their own horn. It is for these men and women that I am urging the governor to sign a law to protect and serve those who protect and serve everyone who flies in and out of the airport. The bill, sent to the governor last week, calls for airport firefighters to be afforded the same protection of fair and reasonable contract negotiations as structural firefighters.
Firefighters at the Buffalo airport protect 63 businesses. This includes the $109 million airport terminal, cargo facilities, U.S. post office, Sierra Research and Prior Aviation. Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority firefighters also are armed New York State peace officers and are prepared to lend Transit Police assistance in an emergency. In addition, as firefighters, we are trained to provide medical attention to the 4.8 million people who utilize the airport each year.
Our salary increase was 4 percent over the last eight years. Currently, our contract has been unresolved for two years. The last proposal is offering no increase for the first two years. Our union is willing to accept a single health care provider, which saves the NFTA more than 7 percent yearly.
In 2004, the NFTA violated state law by canceling health insurance for firefighters and their families during contract negotiations. Members discovered this fact 30 days later, when they started receiving medical bills.
We would never call for a strike, because we have too much respect for ourselves and our families to break the law. We choose to serve, protect and defend in hope that someone of honor will step up and do the same for us.
Donald Notaro is president of the Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighters Association at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.