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    Default Fire Department feels the heat

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Sweeping changes will close some facilities and cut jobs while at the same time building new centralized sites

    By BRIAN MEYER
    News Staff Reporter
    2/2/2004


    File photo
    Buffalo firefighters are concerned that accelerated cuts in manpower will compromise safety - for themselves and for the general public.



    Buffalo's Fire Department is about to undergo a series of sweeping changes rivaling the debut of the first motorized pumper that rolled into the city 92 years ago, ending the horse-drawn engine era.
    After years of debate, the city will close old firehouses, build new ones and revamp the way emergency care is handled.

    In the process, some firefighters will lose their jobs as the department shrinks by 125 positions.

    Many of the changes are controversial, pitting the Masiello administration against the firefighters' union.

    The decision to speed up the cuts, a move that could trigger some firefighter layoffs as early as next month, is the most contentious. The union wants to define the debate in terms of safety, rather than jobs.

    "This is all about protection," said President Joseph E. Foley. "The money we'll save isn't worth it if I have to go up to a door and tell a firefighter's wife that she's a widow."

    But Mayor Anthony M. Masiello insists the changes that are already in the works will not compromise safety.

    "What the public will see in the near future is a better-equipped, better-trained Fire Department," Masiello said.

    Consultants for the city say that, if properly implemented, the changes will allow the city to exceed national standards on fire response times even as the department gets smaller.

    Their study shows that the Buffalo department has 20 percent more firefighters per 1,000 population than the median of 10 comparable cities but responds to 8 percent fewer incidents - fires and medical emergencies.

    This is all happening at a time when the Fire Department is operating without a permanent commissioner, since Calvin G. Worthy resigned in protest of the cuts in December. City officials are split over whether promoting from within or hiring from outside will be more effective during a time of such great change.

    Here are some key elements of the city's plan:

    The fire force would shrink to 687 from 823 over three years through layoffs and attrition. There are currently 795 firefighters on the payroll. The first round of layoffs could come in March, when up to 24 firefighters might lose their jobs.

    Eight buildings that house 10 engine and ladder companies would be closed, and five new firehouses would be built in more centralized spots. Two trucks were already phased out in November, and a third is scheduled to be decommissioned in March. Officials hope to start construction on three new firehouses this summer.

    A new model for firehouses is being developed that would eliminate expensive "bells and whistles" such as ornamental towers that have added millions to the cost of past construction jobs.

    New "cutting edge" equipment will likely be purchased. For example, administrators are looking at a compressed air foam system that makes water a more powerful fire suppressant.

    New strategies are being reviewed for handling emergency medical calls, which accounted for about two-thirds of all Fire Deparment calls answered in 2002 and to which firefighting apparatus respond.

    "This is really an evolution - a move toward how modern fire departments across the country are operating," said Human Resources Commissioner Leonard A. Matarese.

    Control board Chairman Thomas E. Baker said last week he's confident that the plan - which was drafted by the city, not the board - "is the right thing to do" in light of a shrinking population.

    With a $51.4 million budget this year, the Fire Department represents about 18 percent of the operating budget, making it among the city's most costly services.

    The overhaul is expected save the city more than $26 million through 2007. Common Council approval is needed before any fire companies are closed.

    "It's probably the best plan the Masiello administration has ever put out," said Council President David A. Franczyk. "I think most of us are generally comfortable with the plan."

    But not all residents say the same thing. Petition drives have even been launched to protest the cuts.


    Voices of dissent

    "I think they're making a mistake," said Donald A. Bunte, a Gold Street resident. "I'm afraid they're going to kill a lot of people. They can have all the studies they want. But when you get down to the nitty-gritty, you shouldn't be cutting fire services."

    Anthony E. Nardozzi said he learned the hard way that "minutes matter" when a fire broke out in the basement of his Luddington Street home last fall. The truck stationed in the closest firehouse to his home was out on a call. It took another engine company a few minutes longer to arrive, he said.

    "Fire is a service that under no circumstances should be cut," he said.

    While the overhaul will leave the city with three fewer fire stations than currently exist, experts claim there will be no significant change in response times. The new structures will be built in more centralized spots - locations selected with the help of a computerized mapping system, an analysis of current response times and input from fire officials who have decades of experience, the consultants said.

    MMA Consulting Group, a Boston firm, spent six months dissecting Buffalo's fire operations before preparing the study that shaped the plan.

    But as the control board pushed the city to find ways to save money faster, Masiello decided to speed up the four-year implementation schedule MMA recommended. The city plans to complete the restructuring within three years, and some critics claim the accelerated schedule will compromise safety.

    Foley said the union is not averse to change, but the decision to speed up the downsizing coupled with the collapse of contract talks between firefighters and the city have caused acrimony. "If things aren't done in a slow and methodical way, I know we'll be burying some of our own," Foley warned.


    Consultant's view

    MMA Consulting President Mark E. Morse acknowledged that there's "a lot of work to do" in the Fire Department retooling.

    "But I think you can do it in three years, as long as you're methodical," he said. "More time would be good, but you have to do what you have to do."

    Morse stressed the importance of having the resources available to build the new firehouses, upgrade equipment and absorb other costs. The city received a $20 million state grant last year to help finance changes in the Police and Fire departments.

    MMA compared Buffalo's Fire Department with those in 10 cities that have similar population densities and similar fire protection problems, such as closely built wood-frame housing.

    Both sides have used the study to bolster their competing arguments. The union, for example, has seized on a passage that indicates that the cost of fire services in Buffalo is "slightly lower than the median cost" of departments in other cities. Firefighters also point to MMA statistics showing that Buffalo had 78 percent more structure fires per 1,000 residents than the average city in the study.

    But reform advocates said the report illustrates the need and the ability - to reduce the city's fire force. The study also included these findings:

    While Buffalo fights more structural fires than many comparable cities, the number of incidents the department responds to in a given year - including medical emergencies - is 8 percent below the median.

    Buffalo's average number of on-duty firefighters per 1,000 population is about 20 percent higher than the median and was the fifth-highest among the 11 cities studied. Experts say this is the best way to gauge fire protection strength, because it takes into account vacation and other leave policies that may mask the true number of firefighters on the street.

    The number of fire companies, or trucks, per 10,000 population in Buffalo is 21 percent higher than the average, while the number of fire companies per square mile is 17 percent higher.

    Florida-based consultant John Granito, who has been involved in more than 400 fire studies and is working with MMA on this one, said the downsizing, if properly implemented, will allow the department to meet - and even exceed - national fire response standards. Those standards require the first engine with at least four crew members to arrive in four minutes or less in at least 90 percent of the calls.

    "Change is very difficult," he said.

    While the department grapples with those structural changes, it also is searching for a new leader after Worthy resigned, in part because he objected to laying off firefighters. Michael L. D'Orazio is serving as acting commissioner.


    Search for a leader

    The search for Worthy's successor has touched off an internal flap among city officials over whether the new commissioner should be a "change agent" from the outside, or an insider with extensive firefighting experience in Buffalo.

    A national search is under way, and the first round of candidates could be brought in for interviews within a week. Masiello acknowledged the search has spurred some lively debate.

    "I resent some people saying you can't find good people inside the (Fire) Department," Masiello said. "You have to keep all your options open.

    As plans proceed to make long-term changes, there are immediate problems to address. Overtime costs in the Fire Department are up and are expected to escalate in the coming months, fueled by a high number of firefighters out with injuries. The city may ask the control board for permission to delay the layoffs of up to 24 firefighters next month, claiming the cuts might cost more in overtime. In the long term, the chairwoman of a citizens task force that Masiello appointed to help implement the changes is cautiously optimistic.

    "If we can keep all the players moving forward," said Judy Shanley after a meeting Friday, "we will be a re-engineered Fire Department."


    e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com
    Shawn M. Cecula
    Firefighter
    IACOJ Division of Fire and EMS

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    MMA did a study for out Town too. Last I saw it was in the place you go poop as extra paper.

    good luck to the brothers.....

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    One of the great things consultants don't tell the community they are doing the study for is that they don't live in the community and have to deal with the consequences of their recommendations!

    Did you ever notice than when a study says cut cut cut, the city and town "parents" love it, but when the study recommends adding staffing and stations, the same "parents" ignore the recommendations?
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
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    this doesnt sound right at all .........and Gonzo that is nothing more than the BLATANT truth !~
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    I'm sorry, I haven't been paying much attention for the last 3 hours.....what were we discussing?
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    "Fire is a service that under no circumstances should be cut," he said.
    and the resident that made this statement would be more than happy to increase his tax payment to keep things as they are.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    Knowing several FFs of varying ranks on the BFD, I can say that times have been tense since the consultant idea was brought up. There have already been layoffs and now more are on the horizon.
    Some of you may remember the Quint Midi thread that was posted here a few years ago, yet another feeble attempt by the Buffalo City council to save money.
    I think a good hard look needs to be taken at how money is being spent within the city government, they have formed a Control Board to assist with the operations of the city. Doesnt that cost money that could be spent elsewhere?
    Bones: to answer your question, I think some people would be more than happy to pay the taxes to keep the fire staffing at its current levels. But I think the major problem is the mass exodus of industry and business from the area that is causing more of a problem. I am not sure that the residents of the city would be able to foot the bill themselves on this one.
    I will attempt to update this as more information becomes available.
    Shawn M. Cecula
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    Question Can't be all Bad...................

    Originally posted by CaptainGonzo
    One of the great things consultants don't tell the community they are doing the study for is that they don't live in the community and have to deal with the consequences of their recommendations!

    Did you ever notice than when a study says cut cut cut, the city and town "parents" love it, but when the study recommends adding staffing and stations, the same "parents" ignore the recommendations?
    I respectfully disagree, slightly. There are places, not necessarily in the majority, where consultants have recommended increasing the size of a department, and local government has done so. On to downsizing. I have a feeling that the old, core, cities of the Northeast are the ones that will be hit hardest by this type of action in the next decade. One point that is hard to accept by some, is that truthfully, many of these places are shrinking in everything except geographical boundaries. Improvements that save on operating costs can be made. An example: two stations, each housing an engine, off the main streets, near the city line, about a mile apart. Each has 3 people assigned. Build one station, on a main street, between the two current locations. Move both engines into one station, staff one with four people and the other with a driver. The flexibility of a two piece engine company is far better than a single engine, a four man engine can do more, and do it safer, than a three man engine, you save on operating costs of the station, and last, you can drop one position. I am not ever endorsing layoffs. If a staff reduction is something that is part of the plan, of necessity, then reduce the force slowly by not replacing those who leave voluntarily by retirement or moving on to a better (in their opinion) job. There are departments out there that have downsized without compromising the safety of their members or the public. But, ANY PLAN TO DO SO MUST BE THOROUGHLY THOUGHT OUT, WITH EVERY POSSIBLE RESULT KNOWN, AND PROVIDED FOR, WELL IN ADVANCE. Stay Safe....
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    Harve...

    About three years ago, the Selectmen of the Town of Southborough (right next door to us) commisioned a study of the Southborough FD. The Southborough FD is a combination department (career and paid on call). Southborough is a very expensive community to live in (many $1 million+ homes). Most of the firefighters cannot afford to live in town (many of them live in Marlborough, not exactly "affordable" either)

    The chairman of the board of selectman's finance committee seemed to have taken a large dose of Viagra/Levitra/Cialis when it came to the Fire Department. A study was commissioned to determine where the FD could be "streamlined and made more efficient , ie. cut to save money (of course, the motive here was to sacrifice the FD in favor of the PD and schools).

    The town hired Public Safety Consultants out of Boulder, Colorado to conduct the study. Imagine the surprise when the results stated that the Southborough FD needed to increase staffing to maintain and prepare for future growth in the community!

    The Finance chairman went, in a word, "ballistic". He claimed that the study was a sham and a waste of taxpayer money...of course, he was reminded who wanted the study and who commissioned it!
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
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    I agree with Harve as far as Laying Off Employees is concerned.

    Go gradual and not replace retirees and employees who resign or are terminated. Reductuions in work forces should never happen ( I would rather have 10 more men to fight fires than a nifty TIC or workout equipment or a new CAFS Truck) and it is a shame that they are, especially in a tinder box like Buffalo.

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    Move both engines into one station, staff one with four people and the other with a driver. The flexibility of a two piece engine company is far better than a single engine, a four man engine can do more, and do it safer, than a three man engine, you save on operating costs of the station, and last, you can drop one position.
    Manpower puts fires out....Not the number of apparatus responding.
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    My take on that article is the biggest bone of contention is the acceleration -- which is causing layoffs where otherwise attrition could've taken care of it.

    Buffalo has lost tremendous tax base & population over the years, and reality is reality.

    They currently have 795 on the payroll. Assuming most guys retire with about 25 years (don't know Buffalo's specifics) that's 4% attrition, or 30 people per year. That's also assuming they hired fairly evenly over the years...government being government they may have binged and starved over the years creating "blips" of lots of hiring one year, and lots of retirements 25 years down the road.

    They want to get to 687, and originally planned to do it in four years. 4 x 30 = 120, 795 - 120 = 677, do we see where this math is going?

    Deciding to accelerate it by a year, we're just f*cking with people's living for six months or a year. To make the RIFs desired in that time frame, we lay off 24 or so firefighters this spring. By fall, or winter, or next spring -- sometime in a year or so, another 30 guys will have naturally retired from the department. And those jakes who got laid off and have been trying to make ends meet and keep up the car payments & mortgage for the last 6, 9, 12 months will get back on the job and just be p*ssed off at the city when they come back and still look forward to another 2 years of trying to play catch up on their personal finances.

    It also starts a bumping game where previous lay-offs who may have hoped to come back have gotten knocked that much further out.

    But the City got to save 3% on their fire department payroll during the intervening months between layoff and callback.

    Look, cities have to be realistic, and I'd say Buffalo has a real fiscal situation they have to cut expenses. But it doesn't mean they have to do it through layoffs.
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    Default Re: Fire Department feels the heat

    New "cutting edge" equipment will likely be purchased. For example, administrators are looking at a compressed air foam system that makes water a more powerful fire suppressant.
    Does anyone else think this sounds a lot like a different way of wording:

    "We want to try and use less people to do the same thing and pay a fortune for this machine that doesn't require insurance or benfits."
    Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

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    Manpower puts fires out....Not the number of apparatus responding.

    Although 2 piece Engine Cos have the flexibility that the 1st due engine never worries about establishing water or even just leaving a man at the hydrant.

    Their 2nd piece can reverse lay for water, and if the hydrant is defective keep laying till he finds a good one.
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    Does anyone else think this sounds a lot like a different way of wording:

    "We want to try and use less people to do the same thing and pay a fortune for this machine that doesn't require insurance or benfits."


    I'm not sure "fortune" is the right phrasing.

    Let's assume you pay the $40,000 I hear mentioned for CAFS (God, wouldn't I love to negotiate like a hard-*** on that one...). Buffalo's paying at least $50,000 in salary & benefits per year per ROOKIE firefighter. Of course, laying off their newest firefighters their average salary just goes up, anyways $40,000 divided over 10 years or so for apparatus lifetime in a major city annually isn't even a month's labor costs for one FF.

    If technology like CAFS lets you take up just a little bit faster and with a little less fatique, in can help offset the additional call volume the guys are going to have.

    A tool like this can't replace manpower, but they can help make work easier for the manpower that is there.
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    Their study shows that the Buffalo department has 20 percent more firefighters per 1,000 population than the median of 10 comparable cities but responds to 8 percent fewer incidents - fires and medical emergencies.
    Same thing a study of my home town came up with.

    Funny, they're "overstaffed," yet they have trucks with 50% NFPA staffing..... (my city not Buffalo, for clarification.)

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    Default Let's look at some of the spin

    While Buffalo fights more structural fires than many comparable cities, the number of incidents the department responds to in a given year - including medical emergencies - is 8 percent below the median.
    Their study shows that the Buffalo department has 20 percent more firefighters per 1,000 population than the median of 10 comparable cities but responds to 8 percent fewer incidents - fires and medical emergencies.
    Firefighters also point to MMA statistics showing that Buffalo had 78 percent more structure fires per 1,000 residents than the average city in the study.
    Notice the article doesn't give where Buffalo ranks for actual structural fires on the 11 department list. Let's dissect this: They go to more fires and do less of the "non-strenuous jobs" then the median. It's the Buffalo Fire Department....not the Buffalo customer service department. To go to 78% more structure fires with 20% more firefighters per 1,000 residents then the median sounds sounds like these guys are working pretty hard already. I'm not insensitive to the cities problems with needing to tighten the belt but doing it by lay-offs is not the way to go. A good plan of reduction by attrition, consolidation of firehouses and changing of SOG's (ex. More companies responding on a first alarm) can save more tax payer dollars without compromising public and firefighter safety then this study lays out.
    FTM-PTB-EGH-RFB-KTF

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