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Firefighters Protest Fire Company Closings

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – Buffalo firefighters are declaring a fight against layoffs, fire company closings and a lack of a new contract. About 300 rallied in Niagara Square Monday against the recent actions taken by the city and Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority.

Union fire fighters came from as far as New York City. They carried signs that read "Masiello attacks firefighters" and "Giambra betrays Buffalo." Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association President Joe Foley says Mayor Masiello has caused a plague in the city.

"Tony should be ashamed of himself for what he has done to this city," Foley said. "This is a great city. And he has brought it to its knees by mismanagement."

But Masiello says the city has to face the reality of its fiscal condition. He says the city is not jeopardizing public safety because the department is still meeting or exceeding federal response time standards. Masiello says the decision was not "anti-fire."

"I just wish union leadership would be more honest with their own members and explain the facts intelligently and responsibly instead of using these tactics," Masiello said.

Firefighters also used the rally to lash out at County Executive Joel Giambra, control board chairman Thomas Baker and M&T Bank President and control board member Robert Wilmers.

"We will stand up and we will be heard, even if we have to take all our money out of M&T Bank and go elsewhere," Foley said. "M&T is not a friend to this city."

Wilmers and Baker were not available for comment. Two fire companies closed over the weekend. A third -- Ladder 9, at Elmwood and Virginia -- will close in March and 21 positions will be cut, saving $1.3 million.

The rally also attracted other city leaders, including Council President James Pitts. He says the city should not be closing any fire houses.

"We should be building new fire houses," Pitts said. "There's no way we should be laying off any fire personnel. We should be hiring more personnel."

But Masiello says his four-year fiscal plan calls for relocating or building new fire houses and recommendations are currently being prepared. Union president Foley says they will put up a fight to keep Ladder 9 open.

"We are going to draw the line to keep Ladder 9," Foley said.

Fire fighters say $8.2 million the city received in state re-engineering money should be used for a new fire contract. But Masiello says the state allowed the city to use that money to close existing budget gaps.