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May 5, 2014

Court order involving firefighters takes effect

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal —

A temporary court order restoring minimum manning to nine firefighters per shift at Lockport Fire Department took effect Monday.

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

The Lockport Professional Firefighters Association said the Fire Board's decision violates a written agreement. In 2009, an arbitrator ruled LFD’s minimum manning level should be 10 firefighters per shift, but the union agreed to nine per shift in its latest contract with the city, union president Kevin Pratt said.

Reducing the staffing levels and taking an ambulance out of service create health and safety concerns, Pratt said. Seven firefighters are not enough to operate LFD's Engine 9 ladder truck.

"We've had some bad fortune when they've decided to take an ambulance or ladder truck out," Pratt said. The restraining order "is very good news for the general public."

In a court filing, LPFA said reduced manning puts people at risk. The union used the Sept. 20, 2012, death of West Avenue resident Jeanette A. Lombardi as an example. Mrs. Lombardi died before an emergency crew arrived at her home in response to a 911 call.

The court filing said when city dispatch received the ambulance call, both of LFD's ambulances reportedly were in use, one on an out-of-town transport and the other in a training exercise. Local dispatch contacted Niagara County Central Dispatch and invoked "mutual aid," meaning a request for service from the closest non-city company.

Without using Mrs. Lombardi's name in the filing, LPFA asserted Lockport Fire Department was unable to provide a timely medical response on the day of her death and that "she may have been saved, had the proper equipment been available."

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