The courage, discipline, and selflessness demonstrated by the New York firemen who on September 11 spontaneously put their lives on the line to save others is admirable. But why do they need to be called heroes? Perhaps this word has different connotations in American English than in German. It seems to me that whenever heroes are honored the question arises as to who needs them and why. Even in this looser sense of the term one can understand Bertolt Brechts warning: Pity the land that needs heroes.
Indeed, after Sept. 11th police and fire departments across the nation basked in the reflected glow of their martyred brethren in New York City. Then along came Jessica Lynch and then Pat Tillman.
Now in Buffalo, downsizing is the order of the day. Police and Fire represent bloated government bureaucracies that are greedily sucking the life out of the City of Buffalo, the former admirers say. Yesterdays heroes have become todays targets of opportunity for the Buffalo Club elite that now disdainfully holds the purse strings of government in the form of the Citys so-called Control Board.
The Firefighters Union President Joe Foley and Vice President Frank Lucca recently discussed the Citys fiscal crisis and the Unions position with Alt.
There's an average of about 1600 structure fires a year in the city of Buffalo and we respond to about 33,000 calls in a year, Lucca said. For the plan for the reorganization of the stations, the Masiello Administration didn't bother to consult the Fire Dept, he said, This was done totally without any input from the membership and to me that's a huge mistake. We felt left out.
He also noted that the membership has already been reduced from a high of 930 firemen down to 687. The Masiello Administration has closed 9 companies so far, almost a quarter of the Fire Department's services. About Masiello, he added that, His overwhelming concern seems to be financial and not safety.
Resentment seems to have built up towards both Masiello and County Executive Giambra, since prior to their appointment to the Control Board both Tony Masiello and Former City of Buffalo Comptroller, Joel Giambra cut political deals that placed further burdens on the City's firefighting budget. In 1998, a controversial lease-back arrangement saw the City of Buffalo sell two firehouses to real estate developers and then rent them back.
The deals turned sour as both Harold Schectman and Dreamco Development, owned by Giambra's sister-in-law Rosanne Lettieri failed to pay taxes and utility bills on the properties. The city also spent three million dollars for a fire station on Elmwood and Virginia. Meanwhile, a firehouse in the same vicinity on Jersey St. that was eligible for federal renovation grants was closed. These deals make it difficult for many firefighters to take the Control Board's so-called reform proposals seriously.
They just said, 'This is what we're doing. You guys figure it out after the fact,' Foley said of the latest plans. The politicians can make all the mistakes they want to and nothing seems to happen. When we make a mistake, somebody winds up leaving that fire in a body bag.
In discussing the current campaign against the Firemen as represented by the Republican Control Boards heavy-handed tactics, Foley reflected on the perceived cynicism of the Bush Administrations glorification of firefighters and police: The Bush administration after 9-11 says, We love you guys! and then we hear about how important we are to homeland security here in Buffalo on the border with Canada.
Now over two and a half years after the tragedy of the World Trade Center, badly needed federal homeland security money has yet to materialize. Unfortunately, the way it was set up, there's ten million dollars for 04, but we're only given 16 percent of the money, Foley said, The Giambra administration has hijacked 8 million dollars that should have gone into the City of Buffalo.
Essentially, the City Fire Dept. is being cut to the bone, the homeland security money gets picked up by the Giambra Administration. So wheres the money?
We went down to Albany and Washington and we asked them to find the dollars. They're all being told different figures and different things. It's just a shell game, Lucca said.
Foley added: In most states you can go to a website and find out how that money is being spent in your community. Carl Calabrese was sending different information to every office. Any homeland security dollars that come into the City of Buffalo help us because the cuts we're being faced with by the Control Board and the City, it seems that the Fire Dept. is taking the brunt of those cuts. We seem to be doing more under this (homeland security) scenario but we're getting less resources to do it with...We have no new inititatives for training. City Insurance Fraud
Foley and Lucca also spoke about the failure of the City to honor its medical insurance guarantees to the Union. What happens is the City doesn't pay bill, pharmacies blacklist the City of Buffalo, we have something like $330,000 in unpaid medical bills, and they won't negotiate with you, They won't pay your medical bills, Foley said.
When is somebody going to stand up and do the right thing by us? It's a career. It's a vocation, Lucca added, They (the firemen) take the risks that are involved, and now they're being threatened with being laid off? The people on the Control board: Townsend, Faso, and Tobe ask, Why are these guys being protected? Because they've risked their lives! Thats why.
In terms of the Republican elite led by Wilmers and his sidekick Andrew Rudnick, Foley said, They do nothing progressive for the City. They've done nothing but attack unions. But they don't understand that you can't cut your way to prosperity. If all the brave deeds of its members were recited, if the total value of the property which they have saved from destruction could be computed, and the unfairness of a large portion of the declamations made against them at different times exposed, a volume would have to be devoted to the subject....Many are the heroic deeds that might be recounted in the records of the Buffalo Fire Department. -Perry Smith, ed. History Of The City Of Buffalo And Erie County 1884. (thanks to www.buffalonian.com)