LAKE STATION | Medics from the Lake Station Fire Department picketed Saturday along Fairview Avenue in protest of the city’s move to privatize its ambulance service.
Almost two dozen part-time paramedics and EMTs will lose their jobs with the city.
Mayor Keith Soderquist said the decision to hire Prompt Ambulance Service means the city’s residents will receive the type of service the city could never afford.
Soderquist praised the current employees, but said the change was necessary and overdue.
“When it comes to our employees, we have a great team,” he said.
Soderquist said the city’s ambulance service was running a $140,000 deficit per year.
“As painful as it is to say, it’s something we tried to hold on to, but we can’t afford the kind of service that’s available from a private company,” he said. “They (Prompt) have a very good track record.”
He said with just one crew on duty at a time, if a second call would come in, off-duty personnel would be paged. About half the time a second call would come in, the city would have to request mutual aid from a neighboring city, which increases response time, he said.
Soderquist said the city could not afford to upgrade its service and equipment to compare to the service Prompt can now provide.
Vic Vargas, a 35-year veteran of the city’s EMS, was among those picketing Saturday.
Vargas said he learned from media reports Thursday that he was losing his job.
“They should have been professional enough to call a meeting to tell us they’re privatizing,” Vargas said.
Soderquist confirmed no meeting was called with current employees, but said he considered a vote at a recent City Council meeting official notice.
Soderquist said concerns were raised that had a meeting been called, the EMS workers might not cover until Prompt takes over.
Vargas said he would continue to work until the end of the month.
“We won’t turn our backs on the citizens of the city,” he said.
Vargas said city officials should have waited to allow recent changes to its billing practices to come to light before shutting down the service.