LOCKPORT - The Common Council voted Wednesday to ask the Fire Board to allow the city to hire new firefighters who are emergency medical technicians, not more highly trained paramedics.
For many years, Lockport has hired only paramedics to join the Fire Department. However, after the current crop of nine candidates for the department went through agility tests, only one paramedic was left on the eligible list.
The matter is urgent because earlier this year, the city was awarded an $848,368 federal grant to pay the full salaries and benefits for four new firefighters for the next two years. But the city needs to act on hiring by early February, or it could forfeit the money.
"I'm not going to see the city lose $800,000," said Alderwoman Anita Mullane, D-2nd Ward, a strong advocate for hiring more firefighters and for restoring the city's license to have firefighters engage in advanced life support services. The city is still awaiting state approval for that application.
The city surrendered its advanced life support certification during its financial crisis in 2014, after 12 layoffs in the department, which now has 34 members. Most of those laid off either have been recalled or have joined other fire departments.
Alderman Mark S. Devine, R-3rd Ward, a retired assistant fire chief, said allowing the hiring of EMTs would speed up the process because Lockport could accept "lateral transfers," firefighters working in other departments, who might not be eligible if the city continued to insist on hiring only paramedics.
Devine said an EMT needs to go through a 13-month training course to become a paramedic.
"This is an issue where if we don't resolve it right now, we're going to keep seeing it," Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said. "We know we're going to have a shortage of paramedics."
Mullane said the average age of Lockport's firefighters is 50, so retirements can be expected in the next few years.
"We need to give the chief the flexibility he needs to hire people," Mullane said, adding she was disappointed that the Fire Board, which controls hiring, didn't act on changing the qualifications when it met last week. The board convenes again Jan. 3, and its action needs to be ratified by the city Civil Service Commission before the Fire Department can hire people who aren't paramedics.
Alderman Richard E. Abbott, D-5th Ward, said he agreed with Mullane that the city should make sure it doesn't lose the federal grant. "Sending $800,000 back to the government is not a good idea," he said.
National Fuel pipeline
The Council was asked by representatives from National Fuel to allow the company's new natural gas pipeline in Pendleton to cross the city's raw water supply line, which runs through Pendleton on its 13-mile route from the Niagara River to Lockport.
The routes cross just south of Killian Road in Pendleton, near the site of two new compressors National Fuel plans to build as part of its massive Northern Access project, which would bring hydrofracked gas from Pennsylvania north so it can exported to Canada.
The $445 million project, which awaits approval from federal regulators, includes two miles of new 24-inch gas pipeline in Pendleton. Julie Bachan, who is in charge of right-of-way acquisitions for National Fuel, said the company needs access to 0.05 acres of the city's pipeline route. She said the company, based on an appraised value of $6,000 an acre, is offering the city $300.
Brad Horey, the company's lead engineer, said federal regulations require the gas line to be at least a foot away from the waterline, but he wants a bigger buffer than that. City Engineer Rolando Moreno said the waterline is buried about 10 feet underground on average.
Horey said he envisions National Fuel digging a trench three to four feet wide and six to seven feet deep to cross the waterline route while avoiding a collision. Bachan said the company needs to acquire rights of way from 18 property owners in Pendleton for its new pipeline, and already has "several." She said the company hopes to begin clearing the sites in March and digging in June or July.
Michael T. Marino of Nussbaumer & Clarke, the city's engineering consultant, said National Fuel would be responsible to pay for any damage to the Lockport waterline during construction and the cost of any emergency water the city would have to buy from the Niagara County Water District in such a situation. Bachan said National Fuel agrees to that condition.
McCaffrey said she doesn't expect the Council to vote on the easement deal until February, since more research needs to be done.