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Gary EMS employees ponder loss of jobs

Updated: December 30, 2012 5:56PM



GARY — Juanita Smith walked out of the Gary Common Council Chambers Friday night in a haze of deep sadness.

Smith, 51, attended the council meeting that merged the Fire and Emergency Medical Services departments in an effort to save both.

While the 6-2 vote to merge the two does keep EMS — a service the city administration doesn’t deny is vital — in the city and out of the hands of privatization, it does reduce the department to 255 personnel from 270 and creates 36 new firefighter-emergency medical technician positions.

Neither the Fire Department or the city’s Human Resources Department has announced who the 15 employees are who will lose their jobs in the week ahead.

Still, Smith is convinced she will be one of them.

“We didn’t know there were going to be layoffs; they did this in the last three or four weeks,” the 15-year department veteran said. “This is my only income, and I just had a house built here 10 years ago.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do next.”

At a meeting last week, Fire Chief Teresa Everett told EMS workers that up to half of the department’s 32 employees would be let go and replaced by the new firefighter-EMT position.

Everett said told the city Finance Committee on Thursday that meetings were held with EMS personnel advising them of the merger and the potential lay-offs for individuals that were not firefighter/EMS trained or paramedics. Also, she said all newly hired firefighters are required to have EMT certification. She said paramedics staying with the department received pay raises to achieve parity with fire personnel with similar responsibilities and qualifications.

Employees in the EMS Department received letters explaining if the 2013 budget, which reflected the merger, wasn’t passed by the council, “EMS Services will cease and the department will no longer exist,” and its employees will lose their jobs. It further said if the 2013 budget is passed, reorganization will occur and “some jobs may still be lost,” but every effort would be made to minimize the loss.

That letter was dated Dec. 14.

Juana McLaurin, 60 and a 32-year EMS worker and a member of the city’s Fire Commission, remained defiant.

“Told you that’s what was coming. They never said a word, but I watched how they played it,” McLaurin said. “Half the firefighters have second jobs. They didn’t consider anything about us. They didn’t care.”

Mary Smith, whose 33-year career with the department marks her as one of the three original Gary EMS workers, just cried.

“I put my whole life into this workplace,” she said. “I have bills. I live in this city, and I vote in this city. And I have no other job. How do I start over at 57?

“I’m a good medic. I had to be retrained to be a trauma medic, and Gary has a lot of trauma.”

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said at the Friday meeting that priority would be given to the 15 displaced employees with regard to available positions in the Building and General Services departments.

Juanita Smith scoffed at the notion.

“(Freeman-Wilson’s) going to look for jobs for us. What a joke,” she said. “Everyone in Northwest Indiana came to Gary EMS to train because we had the best department.”

That’s why Scot Bryce, 46, joined 71/2 years ago after working in the private sector for 13 years prior: Gary EMS saw things few other EMS workers in the area see. He, too, fears he’ll be one of the 15.

“My wife had to take a forced retirement, and now I’ll be looking for a job with two young kids,” Bryce said. “I was hoping to make this my career.”

City Corporation Counsel Niquelle Allen apologized to the medics after the meeting.

“If it were up to me, this wouldn’t have happened, but we don’t have the money,” Allen said. “The amount in the budget is the amount in the budget.”



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