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Common council members continue calls for an emergency manager

Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo says there are a lot of the things the department is looking at to prepare for the next storm.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Three weeks and change since the blizzard blanketed Buffalo, the city's Fire Commissioner appeared before the Buffalo Common Council community development committee to answer questions from lawmakers. 

For weeks, council members have been calling for a dedicated emergency manager position to be created. Mayor Brown wants a fleet director position that would report to him and oversee the equipment for the DPW, Fire, and Police departments. 

Several members took turns asking Commissioner Renaldo about the response to the storm. 

Fillmore District Councilman Mitch Nowakowski first wanted to establish who is actually the emergency manager right now. 

"Several years back, we did have an emergency management coordinator, I believe they're very paid for on a grant," Renaldo said. " By charter, myself, the commissioner, fire is the emergency management coordinator for the city."

"With your responsibility to the firefighters, as well as doing that, can you do that effectively?" Asked Councilman Rasheed Wyatt. 

Renaldo explained that the city takes a so-called "unified" approach to emergency management. 

"We use a unified and collaborative approach with myself BPD, DPW, and all the other departments in the city with commissioners and directors," Renaldo said. "It's not like I'm out there saying, 'Hey, I'm an Emergency Coordinator. I'm calling all the shots, that kind of thing.'"

Renaldo did not directly answer Councilman Wyatt's question about whether this approach is effective or not.

Councilman Scanlon asked about the preparedness of the Fire Department, particularly ensuring station houses were stocked with supplies ahead of the storm. 

Scanlon says multiple firefighters reached out to him saying they were running out of supplies due to several companies taking in stranded city residents. 

"This storm was not a surprise, we knew it was coming days in advance," Scanlon said. 

Renaldo said that station houses were stocked, but what impacted them the most was crews allowing stranded residents to take shelter until they could be transported to a designated warming shelter. 

"It did take a while but through the efforts of the National Guard, sheriff's department, our whole logistical chain were able to get not only food but blankets and cots and things of that nature to the firehouses and to the warming shelters," Renaldo said. "I know we can do a better job."

Councilman Wingo asked the commissioner if firefighters need additional equipment or training for cold weather response. 

Renaldo said they could look at it, but for the most part, any crews that were stranded during the storm were stranded in a functioning fire apparatus. 

The Commissioner also revealed that Buffalo Police headquarters were also used as an emergency operations center. In addition to the Buffalo DPW garage, which Public Works Commissioner Nate Marton confirmed was also an emergency command center, and the Erie County emergency operations center in Cheektowaga, the city staffed three separate emergency operating centers. 

At the time of the blizzard, Commissioner Renaldo was in Florida tending to a family matter. He says he was in constant communication with his team via text and zoom conferences. 

Councilman Wyatt inquired if fire department staff were able to make decisions at any of these emergency operating centers.

"They were able to make decisions after consulting with me," Renaldo said. 

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