By Rick Pfeiffer
Representatives of Rural Metro Ambulance and the union that represents its paramedics and emergency medical technicians are in engaged in 11th hour negotiations in an attempt to avoid a strike that would leave residents of the Falls and other nearby communities facing no or delayed emergency medical care.
Talks were continuing on Monday night between Rural Metro and leaders of Teamsters Local 375.
Local 375 represents approximately 380 EMTs and paramedics who provide service to up to 500,000 residents of Western New York. Rural Metro is owned and operated by Warburg Pincus LLC of Scottsdale, Arizona.
In 2012, Rural Metro responded to more than 120,000 calls.
In 2009, Rural Metro EMTS and paramedics came close to striking. The workers agreed to a deal at the last minute, but the contract left many rank and file members "unhappy."
The local ambulance operation is described as the third most profitable nationwide. However, local EMTs and paramedics claim the company has allowed equipment, life saving apparatus and ambulance stations to fall into disrepair.
The local workers also say that their wages are below industry standards and only recently, in the case of EMTS and paramedic working in Buffalo, were brought up to the city's "Living Wage" Law requirements.
Those EMTS and paramedics working outside of Buffalo are paid less according to employees.
Falls Fire Chief Tom Colangelo said he has been working with Niagara County Emergency Services personnel and Rural Metro officials to try to ensure the city won't be left unprotected.
"What *Rural Metro) has in place is, they're bringing in people from out of town, mostly management and non-union people, and they're going to try to cover the (striking workers) shifts with them," Colangelo said. "But they've also said they're working hard to resolve (the contract talks) and hopefully they can resolve this."
Colangelo said priority will be given to ambulance calls from 911 dispatchers, while regular ambulance transports may be delayed.
"I feel confident that (city residents will be protected)," the fire chief said. "But I'd really like (the two sides) to settle their contract."