Judge blocks NY fire department cutbacks
The temporary order returns staffing and response to levels before cutbacks; the union is seeking a permanent order
By Thomas Prohaska
The Buffalo News, N.Y.
LOCKPORT, N.Y. — A judge has stopped the City of Lockport from reducing the level of service and manpower offered by its Fire Department, at least for the time being.
State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III signed a temporary restraining order Friday, requiring the city to return to the personnel assignments that prevailed before a set of cutbacks took effect Thursday.
The order, which doesn't take effect until it is served on the city, would require the city to have at least nine firefighters on each shift instead of seven; place the city's second ambulance and ladder truck back in service; and send three paramedics instead of two on each ambulance call.
The Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association sought the order and will return to Boniello's court May 14 to argue that the order should remain in effect until an arbitrator decides on grievances the union filed Thursday over the cutbacks.
The union asserts that the city's moves violate its contract. It expired at the end of 2012, but under state law, it remains in force.
Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said late Friday afternoon that neither she nor City Clerk Richelle J. Pasceri was served with any court paperwork, so the lower personnel levels apparently will remain in effect over the weekend.
McCaffrey said, "The Fire Board and Council and myself and the (fire) chief have all concurred that this is the only course to follow, based on the financial situation and the overtime."
Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite has estimated that the city will spend $1 million in overtime this year, twice the amount allocated in the budget, if it sticks with a four-platoon system and a nine-man minimum per shift. The department has 37 firefighters in the wake of layoffs and retirements at the end of last year.
If a platoon can't field nine men, members of other platoons are called in and paid overtime for the whole shift, the union's contract states.
Boniello's original order did make it to Lockport.
It was filed by union attorney Andrea L. Sammarco in the Niagara County Clerk's Office, where a Buffalo News reporter examined it.
The city did not have an attorney present in court Friday.
Union President Kevin W. Pratt, who was re-elected by his colleagues Thursday, said the court decision is "a huge win for the general public."
Pratt, who won re-election over Jon Fredrickson both for union president, said other election results showed former president Samuel Oakes dethroning vice president Douglas Nicholson, while Joseph Prica, Luca Quagliano, Lucas Herman and Mark White were elected to the executive board.
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