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Fire Commissioner Juggles Vacancies and Service Demands

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – The Buffalo Fire Department is short staffed. Buffalo Fire Commissioner Michael Lombardo says he juggling with 18 vacancies in the department, plus firefighters who are off the job after being injured on duty. That has driven up overtime costs. But Lombardo says they are doing the best they can.

"We still have to provide fire protection," Lombardo said. "We've cut as much as we can."

Since the events of 9/11, the city has reduced 20 percent of the fire companies. Last week, the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority said firefighter overtime costs are rising. Lombardo says it has been difficult to avoid overtime. He says he has an aging fire department, in a very busy city, with a wage and hiring freeze. Lombardo says the work load, in some instances, has increased.

On any given day, Lombardo says there are 122 firefighters on duty in the city. Lombado says the city is working toward new firefighter recruitment, but it would need control board approval.

The city has put an RFP (request for proposals) for a new test for firefighters. Home time in 2007, we'll be giving that examination," Lombardo said. "Hopefully, the Fiscal Stability Authority will then allow is to hire after that. Or else, the overtime situation will get worse."

Lombardo says since taking over the department earlier this year, the number of injured on duty has improved. He says those numbers dropped from 89 injured on duty firefighters to 74. But he says it is still a difficult staffing situation.