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New York Firefighters’ Union Vows to Restore Ambulance Service

LOCKPORT - The president of the Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association vowed Wednesday that the union will force the city to restore Fire Department ambulance service.

But while the legal battle plays out, union President Kevin W. Pratt said, he's sure the city will turn over ambulance service to a private company, so he had plenty of suggestions for the Common Council, aimed at making the private service as much like the Fire Department's as possible.

Pratt attended the Council meeting to read aloud a letter he delivered to the city's attorney a few days ago, promising, "We will challenge this with all available legal means."

Pratt asserted that the ambulance service is bargained-for union work and can't be unilaterally done away with by the city.

The Fire Board voted, 4-1, July 22 to drop the Fire Department's rescue service, which the city has had for 40 years, because of the city's financial crisis.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said last week that she expected the Council to vote Wednesday to issue a request for proposals from ambulance operators, but that wasn't on the agenda.

Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said the task of preparing such a document had proved more complex than he expected. McCaffrey said she wasn't sure whether the delay would keep the city's two ambulances operating past Sept. 1, which she had named as the likely effective date of the switchover.

Pratt said the city needs to insist that any private operator dedicate two ambulances to Lockport, because if only one were available, the city would be left uncovered by out-of-town hospital transfers, which is a major revenue source for private operators.

He said the city should insist on a response time of four minutes or less and that the ambulances be staffed "at paramedic level." Pratt said the contract should include sanctions if "national standards are not met."

Former Alderwoman Diane M. Tuohey, noting that 30 of Lockport's 36 firefighters are paramedics, said the city really should add a third ambulance to take advantage of that and make more money in ambulance fees. Those fees are the fourth-largest revenue source the city has, at about $600,000 a year. Only property taxes, sales taxes and state financial aid are bigger.

However, McCaffrey has said, and Pratt concurred, that the two ambulances would have to be replaced in a year or two at a cost of about $300,000.

The city has been trying to cut Fire Department overtime, which has cost nearly $500,000 so far this year, by reducing minimum staffing from nine to seven firefighters per shift. Although the city won a court ruling allowing that, the change won't be instituted until the ambulances are parked.

McCaffrey told the audience at the Council meeting that she expects the State Comptroller's Office to release an audit on the city's cash flow situation soon, since the city has already sent in a response to the draft version. A second audit on other aspects of the city's finances also is being prepared by the state.

Wednesday, the Council reiterated its intention to apply to the Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments, a state agency, for fiscal advice and possible grants or loans of up to $5 million. The board can serve as the hearing panel for binding arbitrations sought by fire and police unions.

The Council passed that measure in December, but McCaffrey said the Comptroller's Office advised her that it might be best to redo it, since the city has changed mayors and Council presidents this year.

McCaffrey said she and City Clerk Richelle J. Pasceri are compiling the documentation needed for the application and plan to send it by Friday.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com



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