Gary Council votes to cut 15 EMS jobs; merges EMS into fire department
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent December 28, 2012 9:44PM
Updated: December 29, 2012 11:20AM
GARY — The City Council kept emergency medical personnel within the fire department, but at a cost of 15 EMS workers’ jobs.
The council voted 6-2, with At-Large Councilmen Ron Brewer and Roy Pratt casting the dissenting votes, to accept a salary budget that merges the EMS and fire departments at special Friday evening meeting. The merger reduces the Fire Department to 255 personnel from 270 and creates 36 new Firefighter-EMT positions at a salary of $41,250 per year, a $2,000 increase over the standard firefighter position.
The new positions require both EMT and Firefighter One or Two certification as part of the requirement for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response federal grant that allowed the department to rehire 35 firefighters laid off because of city budget cuts in 2011, Fire Chief Teresa Everett told the council. While many of the EMS workers have basic firefighter training, they don’t have the other levels.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who encouraged the council to accept the merger, defied anyone to say the city was choosing firefighters over EMS, a criticism many EMS workers had leveled recently.
“This is a difficult choice of losing all our EMS workers and 35 firefighters,” she said, referring to the council’s decision at one of its October meetings to accept all but the salary portion of the Fire Department’s budget and revert it to the 2012 budget. The council at the time disapproved of some of the promoted positions in the 2013 budget.
“I understand why you reverted. No one ever contemplated that we’d lose EMS,” she said.
Brewer said the whole thing could’ve been avoided if the council had received more information.
“If we’d heard more about the merger in October, and then the EMS hearing about cross-training opportunities four days before firing them? My vote will be ‘No,’” he said.
EMS employee Kevin Smith told the council it could still save the 15 workers by changing their status back to civil service, or sworn-in status. Doing so would not change pension status with the state — the state allows only public safety workers who’re sworn in before their 36th birthday to receive pension benefits — but would give them protection without jeopardizing the SAFER grant.
“In my 27 years as a paramedic, this is one of my most darkest years,” Smith said. “I see 15 people who’ve served this city 15, 20, 32 years being let go.”
The mayor said there would be positions within the Building and General Services Department to which the city would give the 15 priority. The new positions wouldn’t affect their retirement because they would still be employed by the city.