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Understaffed department hopes
 to hire firefighter in upcoming weeks

NORTH TONAWANDA — The City Council expects to vote soon on whether to hire a new firefighter this summer and replace an injured worker set to go on disability.

"Certainly we're concerned about the safety of the citizens anytime we get a note that people are understaffed," said Council President Richard Andres.

The panel listened sympathetically at Tuesday evening's workshop session as Frank DeMart, union president, and Assistant Chief Rick Kozak made a case for a new hire.

The injured firefighter cannot work, which for the past two weeks has led to one person working overtime every shift.

"What we would love is three people," DeMart said after he presented an analysis.

During the meeting, he passed out a list comparing fire departments in five other Western New York municipalities.

It rated North Tonawanda as the least expensive about 10 years ago when it had a department of 44. North Tonawanda, with 1.26 firefighters for every thousand residents, cost $3.14 per $1,000 of assessed value. Buffalo, with 784 firefighters, had 2.68 per 1,000 residents and cost $10 per $1,000 of property.

The department would like to select someone in the next few weeks, in time for the firefighter to enroll in an upcoming session of fire training school. A new hire this year would earn a salary of about $48,000 plus benefits.

Andres agreed there was good reason to consider adding someone new. Because of the injured worker, the department has been unexpectedly short staffed. It lost two members to retirements last year and dropped from 38 to 35 members.

"The loss of three is sort of putting us in a place we don't want to be," Andres said after the meeting. "We had cut the department by two individuals as a budgetary thing … That's been our typical way of operating … When somebody retired, we try to save money by not replacing them."