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Firefighters, police discuss federal funding

Members of local fire and police departments and ambulance companies gathered Monday to seek information on how to better access available federal funding that is designated for emergency responders.

About 20 firefighters and paramedics from Erie and Niagara counties joined Rep. Christopher Lee and his staff for an update on the types of grants available and how to apply for them a round table discussion at the Main Transit Fire Company in Amherst.

More than $6.5 million in federal fire grants have been provided to both volunteer and paid fire companies since 2001, said Lee. The Clarence Republican added that New York state has received $278 million in Assistance to Firefighter Grants between 2001 and 2008, the second highest amount of any state.

Over the last two years, Lee's office has helped secure more than $5 million in federal fire grants for 39 departments in his districts.

Firefighters' "biggest struggle is having the most up-to-date equipment to allow them to do their jobs. And since they're nonpaid, today trying to attract people to get on board is difficult, especially if they don't have the right equipment," Lee said after the meeting.

Rep. Peter T. King of Long Island, a ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, was scheduled to join Lee Monday but was hampered by a delayed flight.

Still, James Zymanek, Amherst's director of Emergency Services, and John Buttino, chief of Eggertsville Hose Co. in Amherst, said learning how to access available funds and understanding the process for doing so was a major mission for those in attendance Monday.

"Knowing how we can better make our applications or submissions more competitive is vital, because it is a big pool, and the fact that a lot of [money] is distributed in different ways than we're aware of," said Zymanek.

Meanwhile, other emergency reponders sought more assistance from Lee's office Monday. Chester J. Popiolkowski, president of Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corp. and Justin Ward, the volunteer company's chief of operations, said emergency medical transportation services often get short shrifted when it comes to federal funding.

He said the Lancaster Ambulance Corp. does receive some funding from the Town of Lancaster, but it often does not cover increases in the costs of medical supplies. He said the company has five vehicles that are constantly on the road and answered more nearly 4,000 calls last year.

"Our vehicles are constantly rolling. We need to replace the vehicles. We want to do that on a regular basis just before they start to break down and we start putting money into them," Popiolkowski added.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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