A recent historic blizzard in Buffalo, New York, highlighted the need for updated equipment for the city fleet.  -  Photo: Buffalo Fire Department/City of Buffalo/Government Fleet

A recent historic blizzard in Buffalo, New York, highlighted the need for updated equipment for the city fleet.

Photo: Buffalo Fire Department/City of Buffalo/Government Fleet

The Buffalo, New York, Common Council is evaluating its fleet, after a blizzard battered the region late last year. One councilmember is calling for new equipment for the city's fleet, as well as an emergency management coordinator position for the city.

The blizzard, which dumped some 50 inches of snow in western New York in just a few days, is responsible for 44 deaths in the region as of this writing, according to WIVB. The council wants to make sure the city is prepared if there is ever another winter storm to this magnitude.

“People keep saying this was a once in a lifetime blizzard, and we don’t know that,” Council President Darius Pridgen said.

More Equipment Needed

Buffalo Common Council President Pro Tempore Christopher Scanlon introduced a resolution to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to purchase new equipment for the departments of public works, fire, and police. According to the resolution, the city received $330 million in ARPA funds. The funds are meant to be used to help municipalities financially recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as be used to promote equity in traditionally underserved communities.

The resolution states that the public works, fire, and police departments -- the city's three largest -- provide the most vital services, but have been regularly underfunded. Scanlon referred to the equipment in the January 10 Common Council meeting as "antiquated." In many cases, when equipment breaks, the parts needed are no longer made, he explained.

"I've heard from some people who say, 'no one's been hurt. No one's died because of the condition of the equipment.' Well I'm not willing to sit around and wait for that to happen," Scanlon said.

"We have a once in a generation opportunity to provide the residents of Buffalo, particularly those in underserved communities, services which will meet or exceed any municipality in Western New York by purchasing heavy machinery, sidewalk snow removal equipment, fire trucks (engine/pumpers and ladders), police SUVs with 4-wheel-drive, snow mobiles, all-terrain tracked vehicles, and any other necessary equipment to right size the departments," the resolution says.

"If we're not prioritizing the health and well-being of the residents of the city of Buffalo, what are we doing here?" Scanlon asked. "If we can't keep people safe, if we can't keep people alive, the rest of it is irrelevant."

Scanlon requested that the department of administration and finance amend the plan for ARPA spending to include equipment purchases for the three departments. Leadership in the departments has until February 2 to file purchase order for the equipment. The council will not approve any other ARPA spending until after the equipment is purchased.

The resolution was adopted.

If the department of administration and finance is unable to amend the plan for ARPA spending to allow for the equipment purchases, one council member suggested using FEMA funds.

Taking Inventory

Scanlon also introduced a resolution requesting a detailed equipment inventory list from the Department of Public Works’ Streets & Sanitation Division, the Buffalo Fire Department, and the Buffalo Police Department. The streets & sanitation division is responsible for the snow removal and street cleaning of more than 1,600 lane miles of city roadways, as well as the collection and disposal of all municipal solid waste at more than 86,000 weekly locations. The Buffalo Fire and Police Departments are responsible for providing emergency services to 278,000 residents.

"As the second largest city in New York State, it is imperative our Public Works, Fire, and Police departments have the appropriate equipment and resources to safely and adequately serve the residents and businesses of Buffalo," the resolution states.

Scanlon explained that the departments currently have equipment that is nearly 20-years-old in some cases. In other instances, equipment has cracked frames. There has been a growing need for new equipment purchases for years, but the blizzard further highlighted the need.

"We need to purchase equipment that's usable in this weather," Scanlon said.

Scanlon clarified that he does not believe the city needs to purchase equipment that will just be used in winter storms. Rather, the city needs proper equipment that can be used on a regular basis, but is reliable enough to be used in major weather-related events without fear of breaking due to condition or age.

"I'm extremely concerned that the quality, the condition, the age of those fleets, are going to create a major problem in the very near future," he said.

In the video below, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown is seen explaining how some equipment is being used to assist with cleanup after last month's blizzard.Wheel loaders are seen piling up snow that is then placed in dump trucks to be hauled away from city streets.

The resolution requests the three departments file a detailed list by the next council meeting that includes:

  1. a full list of all the equipment assigned to each department, broken into three categories: operational, currently being serviced, out of service;
  2. the status of the current inventory of service parts; and
  3. the number of mechanics currently employed by each department, and how often they work.

The resolution was adopted.

Fleet Director Position Scrapped

Days after the blizzard, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown announced a fleet director position to his administration. If approved by the Common Council, the position would have reported directly to the mayor and deputy mayor.

Multiple departments across Buffalo, including the Department of Public Works, the Buffalo Police Department, and the Buffalo Fire Department, have fleet managers, according to WKBW. This position would have been a central figure set to oversee and cross-coordinate all fleets within Buffalo.

Common Council members determined an Emergency Management Coordinator would be more beneficial to the city. In the resolution, councilmembers listed examples where the position would have benefitted the city, including the May 2022 mass shooting at a grocery store that led to the deaths of 10 people, as well as the blizzard.

"Evolving emergency situations like these require significant coordination. As these events transpire in real time, it is imperative that the integration of different layers of government, multiple municipal departments, and several outside agencies takes place as promptly as possible," the resolution states.

Councilmembers said the position will have the same oversight that the fleet director would have had, operating as a central figure for the various city fleets, but only in emergencies. During day-to-day operations, fleet managers for each department can continue to work within their divisions.

The emergency management coordinator's role will include:

  • Developing emergency mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery plans.
  • Administering emergency response training for elected officials and essential personnel.
  • Applying for federal funding.
  • Maintaining facilities and equipment.

The Common Council requests that the Administration, Finance, Policy & Urban Affairs Department, and the Department of Human Resources work with the council to create the position, including qualifications and job role.

The resolution was adopted.

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