Gary City Council fires 15 first responders effective New Year's Eve

2012-12-28T22:45:00Z 2012-12-31T15:16:04Z Gary City Council fires 15 first responders effective New Year's EveDeborah Laverty deborah.laverty@nwi.com, (219) 762-1307, ext. 2223 nwitimes.com

GARY | Juana McLaurin's 32 years of service with Gary will end at midnight Monday when the city cuts her job and those of 14 other first responders.

"We were not told about this until two weeks ago," McLaurin said. "I don't like the way they did it."

McLaurin, a 60-year-old emergency medical technician, was one of several people who spoke out at a special City Council meeting Friday night.

The council, after debating the issue for more than an hour, voted 6-2 to terminate 15 firefighters and EMTs, including McLaurin.

Kevin Smith, a 27-year paramedic whose job with the city also was cut, spoke briefly before the City Council took its final vote.

"This is one of the darkest moments. To reduce 15 employees is a dark moment in the city of Gary. There's still an opportunity to save these positions," Smith said.

Resident Jim Nowacki told council members they should find a way to retain — not fire — the 15 first responders.

"When this administration wants to find money for other services, such as a press secretary, it finds it," Nowacki said.

Nowacki said the Board of Public Works, at a meeting earlier Friday, had approved a $90,000 annual salary for Director of Communications Chelsea Whittington.

That salary, which didn't include a raise, was confirmed by Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

"That amount would save the jobs of two EMTs," Nowacki said.

City Council President Kyle Allen, who voted in favor of cutting the 15 positions, said the move was necessary.

Allen said the cutting of the 15 positions will mean the city can retain 35 firefighters who will be cross-trained.

The 35 firefighter positions have to be retained or the city could lose money it will be receiving from a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant it received in 2010.

Before the council vote, Freeman-Wilson and Gary Fire Chief Teresa Everett spoke about the need to cut the 15 positions to save the city from losing the 35 firefighters.

"We're finding ourselves between a rock and a hard place," Freeman-Wilson said. "Other communities have chosen privatization. We have chosen to merge. That way we can provide services to our citizens. We don't take the loss of 15 positions lightly."

In addition to the 15 positions being cut, the city is saving money by not filling six other first responder vacancies.

"This is a difficult choice," Freeman-Wilson said.

Neither she nor Allen were able to provide a total amount of money the city will save by making the cuts.

Salaries of those cut ranged from $43,334 to $53,927.

Freeman-Wilson said the salary of her director of communications doesn't affect the salaries of the first responders.

"It's not comparing apples to apples," she said.

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