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GARY | The possible elimination of 15 emergency medical technician jobs and $1.2 million in cost savings to the city was broached three months ago, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said Monday.

Action taken by the City Council at a special meeting Friday should not have come as a surprise to anyone, including the EMTs, because the issue was discussed multiple times, Freeman-Wilson said. 

"The merger of fire and EMT service and the elimination of EMT positions were first proposed in detail on Sept. 26," Freeman-Wilson said.

The resulting cost savings, a reduction in the fire budget by $1.2 million, was also a major consideration, she said.

"They, the EMTs, had plenty of notice about the possibility of the move," Freeman-Wilson said.

The mayor takes exception to comments made at Friday's City Council meeting by some EMTs, including Juana McLaurin, Freeman-Wilson said.

McLaurin, one of those whose job was cut, said she wasn't aware of the possibility until a few weeks ago.

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

In addition to broaching the merger and terminations Sept. 26, the proposal was reiterated at City Council finance and public safety committee meetings in October and November, Freeman-Wilson said.

"Fire Chief Teresa Everett also presented a PowerPoint presentation of the proposed plan to the City Council, the Fire Commission and the general public," Freeman-Wilson said.

The decision to pass the 2013 budget Friday allowed the city to save a number of jobs, Freeman-Wilson said.

"Had the council reverted to the 2012 salary budget for fire, we would have been forced to completely eliminate EMS (more than 35 jobs) on Jan. 1 and 35 firefighter positions on July 1," Freeman-Wilson said.

The total savings from layoffs of the 15 EMTs will reduce the fire budget by $1.2 million and will mean an improved level of care provided to residents, Wilson-Freeman said.

"Effective Jan. 1, the service will be provided by EMS paramedics and firefighter/EMTs. EMTs interested in becoming firefighters had the opportunity to take the test earlier this year, and a number were given additional opportunities for certifications and training that would have allowed them to avoid being laid off," she said.

City officials will work to help those 15 laid off EMTs find other jobs, some of which may be in the city, she said.

"We will make every effort to assist displaced workers and will continue to work toward providing the best government that tax dollars can provide," Freeman-Wilson said.

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