Rural Metro under fire in Western New York. Claims it failed to report ambulance crew arsonists & investigation of billing practices.

Read story on how Rural Metro handled ambulance crew arsonists

Read story on Rural Metro billing practices

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The Buffalo News has spent the last two days providing a critical look at the operations of Rural Metro in Western New York. Today's story is about the 2009 case where an ambulance crew was convicted of a pair of arsons and suspected of others.

Reporters Dan Herbeck and Matthew Spina make a case, after talking to co-workers of the arsonists and fire investigators, that Rural Metro did not take information it had to the office of the Buffalo Fire Marshal.

According to the article, Rural Metro employees became suspicious about the pair because of text messages and other clues and reported the concerns to management. The company says it did its own six-day investigation and reported the findings to the Buffalo Fire Department. But now-retired Lt. Salvatore Colangelo, who was in charge of the Buffalo Fire Marshal's Office, says he doesn't recall any such contact:

"We investigated this thoroughly," said John M. Rusinski, the company's risk manager, who also is a volunteer firefighter in West Seneca and who recently joined the Town Board. "It was a he-said, she-said. … We did our due diligence," he insisted.

Rusinski said he called the Buffalo Fire Department on May 18, 2009, to make officials there aware of the suspicions and his inconclusive findings.

But by that date, the Buffalo Fire Marshal's Office already had begun its own investigation after receiving a tip about the Rural/Metro EMTs from another Rural/Metro ambulance worker, according to the man who headed the office at the time, now-retired Lt. Salvatore Colangelo.

In yesterday's paper, reporter Spina looked at claims from employees and former employees that Rural Metro in Western New York is being investigated by federal officials for its billing practices. Rural Metro is facing similar scrutiny elsewhere in the country.

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