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Mayor and union disagree over whether Buffalo fire commissioner lives in city

Chris Caya

The target is Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo, a position that requires living in the city. The mayor said he does, but the firefighters union said he doesn't.

When appointed two years ago, Rinaldo lived in the Town of Tonawanda. Surveillance photos suggest he still does. However, Mayor Byron Brown said he looked at the surveillance, talked to Renaldo and was assured the commissioner recently built a new home in North Buffalo and lives there while selling the former house.

"I certainly reviewed the packet," said Brown. "Upon reviewing the packet, I did immediately speak to the commissioner and my understanding from the commissioner, his land was purchased in the City of Buffalo, a house was built in the City of Buffalo. That is his primary residence. He still has the other house and it is being sold."

Firefighters Union President Vincent Ventresca disagrees.

"He's living with his wife in Tonawanda. The report is pretty clear about that, and that was up to a week or two ago," Ventresca said. "And he's had two years to move into the city and he hasn't done so. And the bottom line is that he's in a situation where he presides over the members and their discipline and he's not following the rules himself. He does not live in the city and he should."

There is a long tradition of difficult relations between fire commissioners and the fire union. What is different about this situation is that the firefighters are required to live in the city and have been required to since a 2013 contract with Local 282.

"We are huge members of the community. We've always felt that way," Ventresca said. "We do this union and the department. We do so many things civically that we're always trying to help. We're community helpers, even in our jobs as well and, again, we work in the city and live in the city and the members are proud of that and, you're right, people know who we are, they know we're firemen."

Ventresca said around 600 of his 700 members live in the city, although some don't like it. The union president said he now lives outside of Buffalo, although he was raised in the city and spent most of his 24 years in the department as a city resident.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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