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Letter: City policy is to blame for firefighter’s injuries

Firefighting is a unique profession and attic fires are dangerous and unavoidable in the fire service. I recently had an article published in The News on attic fires and this scenario is the real-life version.

I’m sure many readers will fault this firefighter, Eric Whitehead, who filed a lawsuit on Aug. 7 against the Buffalo Fire Department after being pulled from an attic in a burning house at 82 Butler Ave., in January, or say he knew the dangers of the job and this lawsuit is frivolous. And many firefighters active and retired will react negatively to this firefighter’s lawsuit. I am not one of them.

As my previous article about attic fires explained, this was an accident waiting to happen.

Over the past seven years approximately 70% of the Buffalo Fire Department has been staffed with new firefighters. There were many mistakes and bad decisions made in this attic fire and as a result a firefighter almost died.

But when 70% of your force is inexperienced at fires and with no real fire experience or supervision in that attic, on that night, the firefighters are not to blame.

The city filled no firefighter positions for years under the previous fire commissioner and the overtime was rampant. So in the city’s rush to cut overtime they hired hundreds of firefighters and you have the blind leading the blind at fire scenes.

The one major contributor of this fiasco was once again, overtime and money. If a fire lieutenant or captain would have been called in for the officer off that night, I’m sure there would have been a different outcome.

The main reason for this outcome was a lack of firefighting experience and a lack of experienced supervision on that line in that attic. Once again, the almighty dollar was a factor. After this settlement is awarded maybe the city will at least make officer call-ins mandatory. Is a life worth a few dollars saved?

Phil Ryan


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