Reeling from the deaths of more than 30 residents — among at least 44 fatalities across the region — Buffalo’s Common Council is asking a lot of questions about the city’s readiness and response to the Christmas blizzard.
Today the Common Council will consider items filed by three of its members, all demanding information and action from Mayor Byron Brown’s administration.
On Dec. 30, South District Council Member Chris Scanlon filed resolutions asking for, among other things:
- An inventory of vehicles and other equipment available to the city’s fire, police, and public works departments.
- The use of federal COVID relief money to purchase new equipment for those departments.
- Revising the city’s snow removal plan to include strategies for major snowfalls and blizzards.
The city’s current snow-fighting plan, released just two weeks before November’s record-setting snowstorm, offers no strategy for snowfall over eight inches, beyond enlisting outside help from private plowing firms and other governments.
Scanlon also expressed concerns about post-traumatic stress disorder affecting city workers involved in emergency response efforts.
The Council member did not respond to a request for an interview for this story. Neither did Department of Public Works Commissioner Nathan Marton or the mayor’s spokesman, Michael DeGeorge.
Last Friday, following Scanlon’s lead, Fillmore District Council Member Mitch Nowakowski filed a resolution asking that the mayor and the Council form an independent panel to examine “deficiencies in the emergency response” to the storm.
Among other proposals, Nowakowski would like the mayor and the Council to:
- Create an emergency manager position for the city.
- Establish an emergency operations center similar to the one operated by Erie County during the blizzard and extreme weather events.
- Examine the performance of the city’s 311 Call and Resolution Center during the storm.
- Strengthen coordination with county, state and federal officials.
- Open more and better-equipped warming centers.
When the storm began, the city had just four warming centers open. Two of them closed when their power failed.
During a big snowstorm, the city’s emergency “command center” is supposed to be the Broadway Garage, which houses the city’s plows and other street maintenance equipment, according to the snow plan. But this is what the inside of the Broadway Garage looked like in late October, three weeks before the November storm and two months before the December blizzard:
Like Scanlon, Nowakowski wants the Brown administration to amend its snow removal plan to account for severe weather. And, echoing Scanlon again, Nowakowski wants a blizzard post-mortem to evaluate the condition of the city’s snow-fighting fleet and other emergency response equipment.
Niagara District Council Member David Rivera, meanwhile, has asked Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia to attend the next meeting of the Council’s Police Oversight Committee to describe “challenges [police] faced, and what lessons and recommendations they have from this experience.”
That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Council chambers.
Last week, the mayor announced he had commissioned an “after-action report” evaluating the city’s performance during the blizzard by a group of academics from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
Brown also announced his plan to address deficiencies in the city’s supply of roadworthy snowplows, fire trucks and police cars: He wants to hire a city fleet manager — a new salaried position.
The heads of the city’s police and fire unions indicated they believe the city’s money would be better spent on equipment than another administrative salary.
John T. Evans, president of the city’s police union, has called on the mayor to commit city funds — including the roughly $360 million the city received through the federal American Rescue Plan — to buy new vehicles for police and other emergency responders.
“Instead of squandering this money, invest in the department’s infrastructure,” Evans wrote on the union’s website on Jan. 1. “Police, Fire and Public Works need it badly.”
Investigative Post reported previously about the Brown administration’s failure to invest consistently in renewing the police department’s dilapidated fleet.
Likewise, the head of the city’s firefighter union has called on the Brown administration to tap into the ARP money to buy new trucks and improve conditions in city firehouses.
“We have lived in barely habitable firehouses … we have responded to emergency after emergency in rigs that are barely street-worthy … and we have made due with equipment that is outdated and obsolete,” Vincent Ventresca, the union president, wrote in a letter released last Tuesday.
“If the public knew the real condition of our gear and our working conditions, they would be appalled — and they would be terrified.”