Questions Arise About Buffalo Fire Department

November 4, 2011 Updated Nov 4, 2011 at 7:09 AM EDT

By Kendra Eaglin

November 4, 2011 Updated Nov 4, 2011 at 7:09 AM EDT

Buffalo, NY

Exactly everything that was in the air when the Niagara Lubricant Plant on Chandler Street in Buffalo burst into flames last July is unknown since no official government agency conducted air quality samples.

But the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York did. Their results were independently certified. Hours after the fire started, their tests showed levels of Benzene ten times the limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But rather than evacuate the area, firefighters instructed residents to go indoors and shelter in place.

"City of Buffalo has extremely old housing stock. I'm not sure that anyone can say with any kind of certainty that shelter in place is effective when you're not doing air testing and you haven't actually evaluated how much smoke makes it into these homes," said Erin Heaney, Executive Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.

But according to the Erie County Health Commissioner, monitoring the air would not have made much difference because breathing in any type of smoke is bad and main objective was keeping residents away from the smoke.

Still, residents feel they should have been evacuated.

A week after the Niagara Lubricant Fire another toxic fire erupted at Goldman Titanium and residents claim the fire department did not have a plan.

"Nobody in our neighborhood knew what to do and nobody directed anybody in our neighborhood what to do," said Mary Taber, President of the Clinton-Bailey Community Association.

Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield says he is working on updating the department's standard operating procedures. Whitfield also says the department is working on ways to better communicate with residents in the middle of an emergency like sending text messages or twitter alerts.

The department is also offering emergency training classes to residents.