Gary’s EMS could lose jobs or be eliminated completely
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent December 27, 2012 10:20PM
Updated: December 27, 2012 10:28PM
GARY — The city’s EMS department will either see its ranks reduced by 15 people in 2013 or see it completely eliminated if the Common Council doesn’t approve the Fire Department’s 2013 budget in a special meeting Friday night.
Fire Chief Teresa Everett told the Finance Committee during its Wednesday night meeting that her department’s budget, originally presented in October, will merge the Fire and EMS Departments, but will eliminate 15 positions, all on the EMS side. The merger will instead create 36 new Firefighter-EMT positions at a salary of $41,250 per year, a $2,000 increase over the standard firefighter position.
As a requirement to not have to repay any of the 2011 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response federal grant that allowed the department to rehire 35 firefighters laid off because of city budget cuts, the new positions require both EMT and Firefighter One or Two certification, Everett said.
While many of the EMS workers have basic firefighter training, they don’t have the other levels, and many wouldn’t be eligible to take the test because statement requirements limit a firefighter’s starting age to 35-and-under.
Everett told the committee that meetings were held with EMS personnel advising them of the merger and the potential for layoffs for individuals that were not fire/EMS trained or paramedics.
“All individuals were encouraged to obtain the additional training, and some EMS personnel did obtain the additional training,” Everett said.
Everett also said that all newly hired firefighters are required to also have EMT certification and that paramedics received increases to their salaries to achieve parity with fire personnel with similar responsibilities and qualifications.
In a Dec. 14th letter sent by certified mail to EMS employees by Corporate Counsel Niquelle Allen obtained by the Post-Tribune, she reminded EMS employees that the city has proposed a merger between EMS and the Fire Department.
If the 2013 budget, which reflects the merger, isn’t passed by the council, “EMS Services will cease and the department will no longer exist,” and its employees will lose their jobs, the letter stated.
It further said that if the 2013 budget is passed, reorganization will occur and “some jobs may still be lost,” but every effort will be made to minimize the loss.
At a meeting called last week by Everett, however, she told EMS workers that up to half of the department’s 32 employees would be let go and replaced by the new Fire-EMT position, said a person with intimate knowledge of the meeting who declined to be identified.
The Council didn’t pass the 2013 budget when it was presented in October because council members objected to the way some of the promoted positions in the budget were handled, Councilman Roy Pratt, D-At-Large, said. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson explained the Fire budget had no provision for EMS; therefore, when they allowed the budget to revert to the 2012 budget, EMS was unaccounted for.
Pratt said many of them had no idea that allowing the budget to revert to 2012 completely eliminated EMS.
The new hybrid position has lead some to believe that the department is being abolished to give raises to those firefighters and those who remain from EMS.
“EMS generates revenue, and Fire doesn’t,” the person said. “It’s easier to get rid of us then try to keep the money for themselves.”
The EMS budget consists of a non-reverting fund of $1.4 million to be used for salaries only and carries a $700,000 deficit comprised of overtime, benefits and other expenses, said Controller Celita Green. As of this year, the city has collected $1.3 million in EMS fees.
The Council will vote on the budget at 5:30 p.m. Friday in City Hall.