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Lockport Council to seek firefighter grant but no additions to force

LOCKPORT – After a 20-minute closed-door session with interim Fire Chief Patrick K. Brady, the Common Council decided Wednesday to apply for a federal firefighter hiring grant that Brady said the city is unlikely to receive.

The Council chose to apply for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to seek federal funding of about $100,000 per man to pay two years of salary and benefits for as many as four firefighters. Brady had recommended applying for a grant to rehire four of the 12 firemen laid off since the end of 2013, but instead the Council chose to apply for a grant to pay for replacing current firefighters in case of retirements.

“It would be a complete success if we got the application for rehiring. It’s a modicum of success to apply for retention,” Brady said after the meeting. “We’re going to apply. That’s the important thing.”

But Brady told the Council that applying for a grant to replace future retirees would be the hardest to win, because it’s FEMA’s lowest funding priority.

Council President Joseph C. Kibler and fellow Republican aldermen John Lombardi III and Kenneth M. Genewick voted for the replacement grant and against the grant to increase the size of the 34-member Fire Department.

Democrats Anita Mullane and Patrick W. Schrader voted for a grant that would have funded the expansion of the roster through rehiring four laid-off men, and against the grant for replacements.

Alderwoman Kathryn J. Fogle, R-3rd Ward, voted in favor of both applications. “I’ll take whatever we can get,” she said.

Fogle’s position created a 3-3 tie on the rehiring grant, which Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey broke by voting no.

McCaffrey said she thought the grant would tie the city’s hands financially.

“If we were to hire four more, we would absolutely, positively have to have 34 (firefighters) for the duration of the grant,” she said, adding that the city couldn’t reduce the force if financial troubles resurfaced, nor could it leave any vacancies open.

“You have to keep the level you started with,” McCaffrey said.

“I think what we see is, at 34 men, we have adequate staffing that meets the NFPA (National Fire Prevention Association) standards,” Genewick said. “I have a hard time talking about adding people.”

Mullane said the four laid-off firefighters she hoped to rehire are well aware that they might be laid off after the two-year grant expires.In the meantime, Schrader said, “We’re not paying the $100,000 (each) in salary and benefits.”

In a lengthy email sent to aldermen Sunday, Brady argued that boosting the strength of each of the four platoons by one fireman each would prevent most of the overtime.

“The category we’re applying in is at the end of the line,” Brady said after the meeting. His email said the city probably won’t even receive an answer until August or September, ruling out overtime help this year.

The city has eight firefighters assigned to each of the four platoons, with a minimum manning level of six per shift, and a contractual limit of three members per platoon on vacation at any one time.

If a platoon can’t muster the six-man minimum because of absences, members of other platoons are called in and paid overtime for the entire shift.

email: tprohaska@buffnews,com