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Fire commissioner was not in Buffalo during the blizzard

A Buffalo Fire Truck
WBFO file photo
William Renaldo, commissioner of the Buffalo Fire Department, speaks to the media in 2020.

Fire Commissioner William Renaldo, who is responsible for coordinating the city's emergency response, did not deny claims he went on vacation during the storm.

Renaldo spoke about the Buffalo Fire Department's response to the blizzard in a Common Council meeting Tuesday, where he commended the courage of the firefighters. Renaldo stated that some firefighters worked for over 90 hours over the weekend of the storm, and he was clear that sacrifices were part of a firefighter’s duty.

"They wanted to get home, they wanted to get home to their families, they had things to do at their own home, of course. But this is the nature of the job. I mean, you're a member of the Buffalo Fire Department and you have a job to do," Renaldo said. "The overwhelming majority of our firefighters know that, they accept that, and that's why we use this word sacrifice. This job is all about sacrifice."

In the meeting, Renaldo said he learned he holds the role of emergency management coordinator from the city's charter when he accepted the appointment of fire commissioner in 2018. However, Vinny Ventresca, the president of Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282, claimed that Renaldo was not in Buffalo during the storm, but on vacation.

"The commissioner of the Buffalo Fire Department is currently the emergency management coordinator. The emergency management coordinator for the City of Buffalo chose to attend a prior scheduled, per-approved vacation to Florida while an impending storm, since labeled historic, descended on the City of Buffalo," Ventresca said.

Renaldo said that he was in contact with colleagues and other parties who needed to consult with him as the emergency management coordinator during the blizzard.

"I was in contact with every department, all of our senior leaders, all of our city department heads, commissioners, pretty much every minute of every hour of every day during my absence," Renaldo said.

The fire department conducted the emergency response from two separate locations during the blizzard including Erie County's Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Renaldo said that a decision was made to place some staff at the county's EOC because of the resources available there.

"I maintained contact with my senior staff throughout and assigned qualified personnel to be embedded within the County Emergency Operations Center alongside representatives from the BPD, DPW streets and other city representatives," Renaldo said.

According to Renaldo, the department made every effort to respond to every incident they were called to, a sentiment the union disputes.

"I'm under the impression that there was a time when we completely stopped responding to all calls except for confirmed working fires," Ventresca said.

Renaldo stated that during the course of the storm the Buffalo Fire Department responded to 11 working fires that resulted in mainly property damage only, and injury to one citizen.