Hobart looking into privatizing emergency medical services
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent January 11, 2013 11:04AM
Updated: February 13, 2013 6:06AM
HOBART — A team of officials is investigating the feasibility of privatizing the city’s emergency medical services, according to two councilmen.
Councilman Dave Vinzant, D-4th, said Thursday he is on a committee put together by Mayor Brian Snedecor that is looking into the possibility of contracting with a private ambulance company for emergency calls.
Currently, the calls are made by the city’s full-time firefighters, all 50 of whom are cross-trained in emergency medical services.
He said the committee has met with two ambulance companies — Superior and Prompt — but has more research to do before making a decision.
“In no way has any decision been made,” Vinzant said.
The councilman said this is one of the few areas in which the city might be able to save money as it continues to struggle with a frozen tax levy.
“It’s been done in other communities. We’ll see if it makes sense in Hobart,” he said.
He said the committee still needs to talk to some communities that have privatized emergency services, such as East Chicago and Merrillville, to see how it has worked for them. If the city does contract with a private company, Vinzant said residents would pay the company for the service instead of the city as they do now.
Tom Castle, president of Hobart Firefighters Union Local 1641, opposes the move, saying he was told it would result in a reduced force, from 50 to 36 firefighters.
Vinzant said the committee hasn’t discussed numbers when it comes to firefighters, adding that both ambulance companies have assured the city that they would be interested in hiring any firefighter displaced as a result of the move.
But Castle said displaced firefighters wouldn’t make the same amount of money, wouldn’t be represented by a union and wouldn’t get benefits or a state pension if they switched to a private company.
“Not to mention the quality of service will go down. Nothing against those guys and gals, but a lot of them (working at private companies) are right out of school. Our guys have been doing this every day for years,” Castle said.
Castle said the city had explored privatization of emergency medical services a couple times in the past, but assured the department they put the issue to rest.
“This was a total surprise. It came out of thin air,” Castle said.
He said the fire department is the only department in the city that brings in money, saying it takes in almost $1 million a year in emergency medical calls.
Castle said other communities, including Gary, Hammond and Whiting, are taking an opposite approach and going with full-time firefighters-EMS personnel.
Council President Jerry Herzog, D-1st, is not on the committee, but confirmed there is a subcommittee meeting with the mayor on the matter. He said he hasn’t seen any budgets showing what privatization would cost versus the city-run EMS, adding that he would need to see the numbers before making any decision.
“We’re doing what taxpayers want us to do — looking at ways to save money,” Vinzant said.