Masiello Ignores Mutual Assistance Rule

In situations such as these, the strategy of the Masiello administration has been to rely on a mutual assistance agreement between Buffalo and neighboring municipalities, created in 1977. Fire Department representatives have pointed out that there is no plan in place to call Buffalo firefighters, even though an on-call detail of the BFD could respond faster than units from other municipalities. In fact, the 1977 agreement explicitly states, “Off-duty personnel (from the BFD) will be re-called for immediate duty and will be compensated at the rate of time and one half...” in the event of such an emergency.

This has not been happening, however. The administration has sought to obtain mutual aid without declaring an emergency, thereby avoiding paying time and a half to Buffalo firefighters.

“They got the County people ready to respond, but they never actually had to call them in. They dodged a bullet,” Lucca said.

“We have asked the mayor’s office and (the city’s acting fire commissioner) Mike D'Orazio to put a plan in place, and they have refused our request to even talk about putting an emergency call back plan in place. It’s beyond belief. I can’t believe that anybody in their position would ignore the needs of the citizens for political reasons,” he added.

Of course, these days, any discussion involving emergency planning must involve the possibility of terrorism. Although the federal Department of Homeland Security has earmarked at least eight million dollars for these purposes, it appears that the county has hijacked the funds. “We still haven’t seen the benefit of those security dollars,” Lucca said. “We believe Mayor (Anthony) Masiello has bargained away those dollars to the county.”

Lucca said that he believes that this puts the community at risk unnecessarily. He said that he suspects that The Buffalo News has avoided coverage of these issues for the same reason that it failed to cover the major fire on Howard Street: the editorial staff's support of the Control Board's blatant anti-union agenda.

Control Board Strategy: Divide and Conquer

The Control Board was, in large part, created by the Republican Party's need to attain something that they could never achieve at the polls in the City of Buffalo – power. M&T Bank CEO and the ideological leader of the Control Board, Bob Wilmers, has been the point man in the all-out war against the city's three most powerful unions representing police officers, firefighters, and public school teachers.

Hopes that a funding crisis would put the teachers’ union at Wilmer's mercy appear to have been ill founded. Only the governor’s veto of spending on education as legislators appear ready to allocate enough money to the district to stave off the push toward privatization represented by the charter school movement, at least for this year.

Now State Supreme Court Justice Nelson H. Cosgrove's decision to force the city to make promised pay increases to the Buffalo Police Department has created the possibility of another defeat for Wilmers and the Control Board.

While Control Board Chairman Thomas Baker has expressed confidence that the board can get the ruling overturned upon appeal, he and fellow Wilmers supporters on the editorial board of The Buffalo News portrayed the victory for the Police Benevolent Association as a major threat to the Buffalo Professional Firefighters Union, and white-collar workers for the city.

As transparent as the strategy might seem, it appears to have had some effectiveness with some of the rank and file firefighters. One firefighter we talked to on condition of anonymity expressed frustration with Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association President Joe Foley, emphasizing the need for the union to play “hardball” in negotiations and admitting to an “us vs. them” attitude with the Buffalo Police. “(PBA President) Bob Meeghan gets them pay raises and we're left holding the bag? We're already stretched to the limit. You can't make any concessions with these people. We've made too many concessions to them already.”

“Of course, there’s frustration on our part,” Lucca said of the police contract. “But the police contract wasn’t even honored and the Control Board is still fighting it. Plus they had to give up quite a bit to get those pay raises. The police tend to come first because fighting crime is paramount in most people’s minds.”

Buffalo News Fails to Publish Firefighters Critique of Fire Study

The city commissioned a study of the Buffalo Fire Department to MMA Consultants of Boston, Mass. The results were a number of suggestions for departmental reorganization. Not surprisingly, The Buffalo News has failed to allow the Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association to give their input on the recommendations, despite the fact that the union agrees with some of the study’s findings.

The union has put its response to the study online on its website, http://www.local282iaff.com

Here are a few excerpts from the response:

“We believe that MMA’s analysis of Buffalo Fire Department Operations and the city’s fire suppression needs is superficial. Relevant criteria were not considered in some of their recommendations.”

“We know that some of their data were inaccurate, which can lead to incorrect conclusions. We also believe that the methodology they employed in their mapping analysis, which attempted to show that their suggested relocation/firehouse closing plan would still enable the city to meet the response time standards of NFPA 1710, does not answer the fundamental question posed by the standard: Can the City of Buffalo put one engine on the scene in four minutes, and a full assignment (as determined after performing a task analysis for the typical fire to be expected in our municipality) on the scene in eight minutes?”

“They cherry-picked what they wanted from this study,” Lucca said pointing out that the only thing from the study that has been implemented is the closing of firehouses. “They haven’t upgraded training. We’ve been without a commissioner for eight months now. No new rigs. No new firehouses. Nothing. Absolutely zero. What we’re saying is if you’re going to follow this study’s recommendations, follow them.” By John McMahon

In the last issue of Alt, we revealed how The Buffalo News did not report several fires in the City of Buffalo, including a major three-alarm fire at 588 Howard St. on May 29. According to Fire Department records, just after 3:30 on that morning, the dispatcher on duty issued an Undermanned Status Warning, meaning that the Buffalo Fire Department had been stretched to its limit. The department had responded to other calls to fight fires on Koons Avenue and Liddell Street.

This was not the first time that the department has faced this problem. According to Frank Lucca, vice president of the Buffalo Professional Firefighters Union Local 282, this situation has occurred a couple of times this year and at least three times last year.

On these occasions, the department had reached the point where, if another major fire had occurred, it would not have had the capacity to extinguish it.