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'It's frustrating': Union president claims Buffalo firefighters were hampered by equipment failure during storm

A house is charred and damaged by fire
Holly Kirkpatrick
One of three homes on Glenwood Avenue destroyed by fire

The Buffalo Fire Department has old equipment that needs replacing, according to union president Vinny Ventresca.

Three charred and crumbling homes stand on Glenwood Avenue in the City of Buffalo. The houses were destroyed by fire on the night of Christmas Eve during the blizzard.

"All three of them are set to be demolished," said Janelle Brooks, whose family has owned one of the homes since 1959. The fire started in the central property, eventually spreading to the surrounding houses. There were no fatalities or injuries.

“My grandmother raised 11 kids here, she has over 23 grandkids, almost 20 great grandchildren. So this house has been a staple in this community,” Brooks said.

Three properties next to each other are charred and damaged by a fire.
Holly Kirkpatrick
Three properties on Glenwood Avenue in Buffalo, destroyed by a fire during the blizzard.

Brooks’ uncle was the only person living in the property at the time, and he made it out safely. The Buffalo Fire Department responded and successfully extinguished the flames, but not before the damage to all three properties was beyond repair.

Although Brooks was not present at the scene that night, she feels the poor weather combined with equipment failure, hindered the firefighters’ efforts to save the house.

“I know that they worked really, really, really, really hard to extinguish it, but they just had a lot of failures with their equipment, and they weren't able to do that effectively,” Brooks said. “And it's no fault to them, they just had a lot of odds against them.”

Vinny Ventresca, president of Buffalo Firefighters Local 282, the firefighter’s union, represents over 700 Buffalo firefighters. He’s demanding better equipment for his members in light of equipment failure during the storm.

“We had a ladder truck that was up in the air for five days, we had half-dozen pumpers that couldn't operate. At one point, a large portion of the fleet was stuck out in the weather,” Ventresca said.

He claims the fire department has old and tired equipment that needs replacing, and says a better equipment replacement schedule is required.

The upper floors of two properties are damaged by fire. Neither house has a roof due to the fire.
Holly Kirkpatrick
Two of the homes destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve

Firefighters usually work 24-hour shifts, but many of those on duty during the storm started Friday morning and worked through Monday afternoon, and in that time they helped scores of those in need. But for Ventresca, the poor state of some of the current apparatus, combined with a lack of snow-ready equipment, hampered the fire department's ability to respond effectively at times during the storm.

“Because of the conditions, because of the failures of the equipment, we were not able to respond or were responding so ineffectively, people died, houses burned to the ground,” Ventresca said.

In a Common Council Meeting Tuesday, Fire Commissioner William Renaldo said that during the course of the storm the department responded to 11 working fires that resulted in property damage only, and injury to one citizen. Renaldo also denied the union’s claims that the state of the equipment impeded the department’s response.

A close up of one of the upper windows with black smoke damage and no roof.
Holly Kirkpatrick
The rear of one of the damaged homes on Glenwood Avenue

“At no time did the age or condition of our apparatus or equipment affect our ability to respond or operate during any of these incidents,” Renaldo said.

Renaldo said that there were no mechanical failures of equipment or apparatus at the working fires the department responded to, but did confirm that some of the department's trucks were older than National Fire Protection Association recommendations.

“The Buffalo Fire Department currently has a total of five engines and one aerial ladder that fall slightly outside of the recommended parameters for replacement. Two of the five engines are at the 16-year mark of their lifecycle, while the remaining three are at the 15-year mark,” Renaldo said.

For Ventresca, new equipment specified for Buffalo, is long overdue.

“Firefighters want to save people and put out fires, and when you're not able to do that, not because of lack of effort but because of lack of equipment, it's frustrating.”