Niagara Gazette

Local News

May 11, 2014

Lockport debates cutting city-funded ambulance service

BUDGET CRUNCH: Officials cite financial challenge, firefighters claims public safety at stake.

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — Abolishing ambulance service would save money for the city, officials say, while the firefighters union counters by saying that doing so will create a public safety issue. 

Talk about reducing the ambulance service started last month when the Fire Board ordered LFD manning and equipment reductions. Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite told the board the department had used up about $200,000 of its 2014-budgeted $500,000 overtime spending time already. Without the reductions, the city is on pace to see $1 million in LFD overtime spending by the end of the year.

State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III signed a temporary restraining order last week, requiring the city to reverse the Fire Board directive reducing the minimum staffing level to seven firefighters per shift, reducing ambulance staffing to two paramedics and taking one of two city ambulances out of service. The reductions took effect May 1 and lasted four days, until the city was served with Boniello’s order.

Both sides return to court May 28 for a hearing on the restraining order. Sometime after that date, the Fire Board and Common Council will get together to decide on the future of the ambulance service.

That meeting, originally set for Tuesday, was supposed to review how the fire department was doing with just the one ambulance. Now, that meeting has been canceled and will be rescheduled. The topic will also change slightly.

At its work session meeting Wednesday, the Common Council openly discussed doing away with the ambulance service altogether. Members seemed willing to have that conversation, as did Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey.

There wasn’t a city ambulance service prior to the 1970s, when the fire department took over a private service, Frontier Ambulance. Now, Lockport is one of the few municipalities in New York state with the service.

Locally, just the Village of Medina provides ambulance services. But the village is discussing its own dissolution, putting such a service at risk of being cut. Batavia cut its ambulance service in 2009; Lockport Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said he plans to speak with that city’s attorney to find out why Batavia officials made that decision.

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