Mutual-aid arrangement worries Gary EMS crews
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent November 3, 2012 9:32PM
Gary Fire Chief Teresa Everett at City Hall in Gary, Ind. Wednesday July 18, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 5, 2012 6:53AM
GARY — The city’s emergency medical services arm is receiving an outside boost by taking advantage of a mutual-aid agreement between it and a local ambulance service, but some city EMS workers are wary of the direction the agreement may take the city.
Ambulances and employees with Prompt Ambulance Service of Highland will start being housed at Gary’s Station No. 9, 761 Clark Road, on Sunday as part of an extension Gary Fire Chief Teresa Everett negotiated with the vendor. The extra manpower will cover the city’s west side, Glen Park and Brunswick areas.
The city already has a mutual-aid agreement with Prompt in the same way it does with other fire departments, said city spokeswoman Chelsea Stalling Whittington: When the city’s ambulances are serving other residents and can’t get to another call, Prompt picks up the slack.
“The chief saw a need for more manpower in those areas, so she acted and filled the need,” Whittington said.
Since many municipalities have eliminated their own EMS services to save money in their budgets — the City of East Chicago is among the most recent — some with the Gary Fire Department are concerned the city might be considering the same. Juana McLaurin, a 32-year veteran with Gary EMS, questioned how Everett could make a decision without at least consulting with the administration.
The department was first made aware of Prompt moving into Station No. 9 during an Oct. 26 meeting with Everett, according to McLaurin.
“How do you privatize part of the service without even coming before the (Common Council) or taking bids?” she said.
Because the agreement is for mutual aid, the city doesn’t pay for the service from Prompt, said corporate counsel Niquelle Allen, who added Everett included the legal department in her decision.
And because the city isn’t paying for anything, Everett wouldn’t need to come before the council.
“(The police and fire chiefs) are allowed to make staffing decisions,” Allen said. “They do not need council approval as long as they stay within the budget approved by the council.”
Nevertheless, McLaurin said she and other workers believe Prompt’s addition to Station No. 9 is a precursor to eliminating EMS from the budget in favor of an outside vendor.
“We don’t have a problem with changes because of the economy, but (Everett’s) job is not regionalization,” McLaurin said. “Don’t give away all your resources.”
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson declined to comment on whether the city has plans to eliminate Gary’s EMS Department because of ongoing negotiations with the various departments, but she said she “absolutely supports the chief’s decision regarding EMS” on the city’s West Side and that “we are exploring a number of possibilities to increase efficiency and cut costs.”