FASNY: Volunteer fire companies caught in political situation over ambulance service

South Lockport Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Chris McClune discussed short staffing and increased EMS call volume with the City of Lockport's Common Council


By Benjamin Joe
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — Ed Tase, president of the Firefighters Association of the State of New York (FASNY), spoke frankly about what he sees as a "political" problem in Niagara County.

Currently the City of Lockport does not offer transport to a hospital and is awaiting an audit by a private consultant to see if it's fiscally responsible to return to the service, commonly called "the ambulance business."

"The situation in the City of Lockport is very tough with EMS and fire services," Niagara County Emergency Manager Jonathan Schultz said. "Twin City and Mercy do support them, but sometimes they're unavailable. The city has to call in volunteers to assist and volunteers are struggling to keep up membership." (Photo/Rapids Volunteer Fire Company)

Friday morning, Tase lent his opinion to an already well-worn issue. Volunteer fire companies should not be getting dragged into a political situation in the City of Lockport, he said.

"They're stressing the volunteers," Tase said. "Who never say no. That's our attitude. To protect the people and their property. But there's a point where the City of Lockport is taking advantage of the volunteer companies."

Tase was repeating what other fire chiefs in the area were saying. South Lockport Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Chris McClune, who made a speech in front of the City of Lockport's Common Council, was of similar mind.

"As most of you know," he said in his speech. "Twin City Ambulance and Mercy EMS availability has been dwindling. Twin City is still handling many calls in the city, however, there have not been as many ambulances available due to shortages in staffing, as well as increased volume of EMS calls."

Ambulance service is hard to come by and while the volunteers of his company will always jump into action, McClune said, they have only one ambulance and while it takes care of someone in the city, it has no availability to help someone in its own district.

Rapids Fire Chief Mike Moore concurred with this sentiment. His company has one ambulance with Advanced Life Support facilities and one fly car with Basic Life Support facilities. He said his vehicles and EMS personnel are in the City of Lockport two to four times a week.

"We're trying to work together, but it's taxing an already very taxed system," Moore said.

Cambria Fire Chief Shawn McIntyre also has one ambulance and one fly car available and said he was in the city at least once a week.

"If we get another EMS call we'd need another ambulance," McIntyre said. "It is stressful and it's an odds game as well. Hoping no one calls while the ambulance is in the city."

While the county is getting together a plan to supplement the fire departments in the towns and villages, Niagara County Emergency Manager Jonathan Schultz said it is not a plan that will help the cities. He said that the plan to strategically place county ambulances in eastern and western Niagara County will take some stress off the volunteer companies, but that is as far as it goes.

"The situation in the City of Lockport is very tough with EMS and fire services," Schultz said. "Twin City and Mercy do support them, but sometimes they're unavailable. The city has to call in volunteers to assist and volunteers are struggling to keep up membership."

On the other side of things, 5th Ward Alderwoman Kristin Barnard said she had a responsibility to her constituents to be fiscally responsible. She, along with 4th Ward Alderwoman Kitty Fogle and Alderwoman-at-Large Gina Pasceri, had proposed an audit to investigate how much returning to the "ambulance business" would cost the city. As of Friday, she said the audit is finally being undertaken by Freed Maxick CPAs after being caught up in negotiations with the city until two weeks ago.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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