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Lockport to seek expanded rescue duties for firefighters

LOCKPORT – Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said Friday that the City of Lockport will ask the state Health Department this week to let city firefighters perform more medical services on rescue calls than they have been allowed to do since the city abolished its ambulance service last September.

However, the request will not call for restoration of full paramedic service, as Fire Chief Patrick K. Brady recommends.

McCaffrey said she will send a letter to Albany this week, asking for a permit for firefighters to be able to carry out certain measures that fall under the category of “Basic Life Support – First Response.”

The city surrendered its “certificate of need” last September when Twin City Ambulance Service was hired to perform rescue calls, and the city’s two ambulances were parked in what McCaffrey said was a necessary money-saving measure.

That move went along with the second batch of Fire Department layoffs in less than a year, which cut a total of 12 firefighters out of jobs. The Fire Department currently is authorized to have 34, but only 32 are on the payroll now because of two retirements that haven’t been replaced.

“I would consider this a minor refinement of what we do now,” the mayor said.

Firefighter Kevin W. Pratt, president of the Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association, said throwing the certificate of need away was a “reckless decision” by McCaffrey and then-Chief Thomas J. Passuite, who retired in December.

“The people who did this, they knew how harmful it would be to the Fire Department and to the public,” Pratt said.

McCaffrey said she doesn’t know what the cost impact might be of asking Albany to grant the Advanced Life Support – First Response designation the city used to have. She said seeking basic life support “is not a laborious process,” but the second request, which would be a paramedic certificate, is another story.

Brady said such an application would have to clear two Health Department regional committees before reaching Albany, and those committees meet only quarterly.

McCaffrey said neither type of request requires a Common Council vote; a letter from the mayor is all that’s needed to start either process.

Brady said the city has 20 firefighters who are certified paramedics, and everyone on the force is considered an emergency medical technician.

Since the Twin City takeover, fire trucks have been rolling to some ambulance calls, if the call is serious enough for a dispatcher at the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office to conclude the extra response is needed. But the firefighters aren’t allowed to do much beyond cardiopulmonary resuscitation and use of a portable defibrillator, the mayor said.

With the new request, firefighters will be allowed to help Twin City crews by administering oxygen, basic first aid, and the “epi pen” that can quell allergic reactions.

McCaffrey said none of this would increase the Fire Department’s staffing or cost. She said Twin City would even replenish the supplies firefighters might use.

Pratt said what the Fire Department really needs is a new certificate of need that would allow the paramedics to be paramedics. “That would be a tremendous asset to Twin City,” Pratt said. “If they get in a situation where they need help, right now we have to say no.”

McCaffrey said that during April, Twin City handled 149 “hot calls” in Lockport – calls serious enough to require the ambulances to use their sirens – and 63 “cold calls.” The average response time was 4 minutes, 57 seconds for hot calls and 7 minutes, 50 seconds for cold calls, the mayor said.