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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
The Lockport Fire Department could look a lot different by year's end with less firefighters working at any given time and a new man possibly at the helm.

The city's Fire Board voted Tuesday to reduce the minimum manning for the fire department from nine members per shift to seven. The move, which city officials say is designed to reduce overtime and increase morale, is set to take effect May 1, but is unlikely to occur without a fight.

Kevin Pratt, president of the the firefighters union, told local media that the decision to reduce minimum manning is a violation of the union contract and is likely to lead to a grievance being filed over the issue.

Overtime has long been an issue in the city's fire department with the city having spent $200,000 on overtime for the department already this year. With two thirds of the year still ahead and vacation season not yet underway, overtime costs could reach as high as $1 million if left unchecked. The city budgeted $500,000 for fire department overtime for 2014.

Minimum manning has also been a sticking point over the years. In 2006, the city cut minimum manning from 10 to eight, but the union fought it and won in arbitration. They later agreed to nine members per shift, where it stands now.

The Fire Board also voted to take one of the city's two ambulances out of service on Tuesday, stating that it was mostly unneeded, going on a small percentage of calls — usually when there are multiple calls at a time. The same arbitration that the fire union won in 2006 declared that an ambulance must be sent for every call. The city says this can be solved with mutual aid from surrounding fire companies.

Fire Chief Thomas Passuite has indicated that his retirement is in the near future, possibly by the end of the year. With that in mind, a civil service exam was given to find a potential replacement. That exam was the subject of another grievance filed by the union, one which the city fought. The union claimed that Luca Quagliano, municipal training officer, was ineligible for the job, although he took the test.

As it turns out, the grievance itself was for naught. Quagliano placed fifth on the exam. Only the top three are to be considered for the post. The top three finishers were Assistant Chief Michael B. Seeloff, Capt. Thomas E. Lupo and Capt. Patrick K. Brady.

Passuite has not yet given a date for his retirement, only that it's coming. Once he announces a date, Seeloff, Lupo and Brady will be interviewed by the Fire Board.

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