Falls City Council Member John Spanbauer was beaming as he and his colleagues wrapped up a special meeting Wednesday night.
In less than 30 minutes, the council accepted more than half a million dollars in grants to benefit Falls police and firefighters.
"I don't mind coming in for special meetings like these," Spanbauer said.
The council acted to accept grants from the federal and state governments and the Niagara County and Manhattan County District Attorney's Offices. The federal grant, from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters (AFG) Grant program, was far and away the largest infusion of cash in to city coffers,
The highly competitive grant, totaling $314,718, will be used to purchase 36 new self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs) for Falls firefighters, as well as a new filling station for the devices. The fire department will also purchase 22 new air bottles and 120 new face pieces for the apparatus so that every city firefighter will have their own individual face piece.
Fire Chief Joe Pedulla called the grant "critical" and "life saving."
"We haven’t been able to fill our air bottles because the filling station (at the Royal Avenue Fire Station) broke down,” Pedulla said. “And our air packs are 20 years old, which means they’re expiring this year. We were taking our tanks to a North Tonawanda fire station to fill them. And we’ve been calling other fire departments that we knew were getting new (air packs) and asking if we could pillage the parts from their discarded apparatus to use to fix ours.”
The Falls Fire Department had sought the AFG twice before.
“This is the third time we applied for this grant,” Pedulla said. “The first two times, we were denied. So the third time is a charm.”
The council action means the federal money can be released to the city. Mayor Robert Restaino said that as soon as the grant money is received, Pedulla has the green light to order the new equipment.
SCBAs are critical devices for firefighters because they provide breathable air in environments with insufficient oxygen, smoke or dangerous gases, and other hazardous airborne contaminants.
The council also agreed to accept $157,805 from a Forfeiture Fund established by the Manhattan County District Attorney's Office, and passed on through the Niagara County District Attorney's Office, to assist law enforcement agencies throughout New York with costs brought on by recent changes to the state's criminal discovery and bail laws.
Niagara County DA Brian Seaman told the council he hoped there would be additional funding available in 2022.
"I am hopeful that additional funds may be available in upcoming years," Seaman wrote in a letter to the council members and Restaino. "In order for the Niagara Falls Police Department to be eligible for additional funds, we will have to show that we are expending these funds towards costs related to criminal discovery compliance and bail reform matters."
The city was also awarded a $78,828 2021 Tactical Team grant from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. The money provided by the grant will be used by Falls police to provide state of the art training and equipment for its DCJS certified Emergency Response Team.
Spanbauer noted that the grant was "full funded" and does not require any matching funds from the city.
in other actions, the council also OK'd a new contract to jointly operate the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy in conjunction with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office, and approved an agreement with the Niagara Falls School District to provide school resource officers.