Every civilian EMT in Lawrence was notified late Friday that they were being let go.
Lawrence Mayor Dean Jessup issued the following letter to employees:
"Dear Colleagues: Today, I made the most difficult decision that I will likely make as the mayor of this great city.
"In order to fix the overspending created by the addition of 18 firefighters and 6 EMT's to the city's payroll in 2010, the fire department will reduce its number of staff effective one week from today by 20 EMT personnel.
"This action, while one that will create hardships, must be taken in order for us to live within our means. Changes like this are always difficult, but in making these reductions our city will remain safe with our professional firemen providing care when an ambulance is called.
"I ask each one of you to continue to do all that you can to effectively and efficiently serve the people of Lawrence and to go the extra mile to help each other in this great public service endeavor. Sincerely, Dean Jessup, Mayor, City of Lawrence."
Keith Johnson,Deputy Chief of Staff, said the mayor wanted to make the decision which would have the least impact on the city. He said people will have the same level of service. He said their budget troubles amount to $2 million. Johnson said they are at the risk of running out of money at the end of year.
"Mayor said (its the) hardest decision he's had to make and hopefully the hardest he'll have to make as mayor," Johnson said. "The mayor had to find new revenue or he had to (make) cut(s) and the new revenue suggestions... was not enough. He had to make cuts."
There were a total of 24 EMTs who worked with the city of Lawrence, but four had taken jobs with other cities before the mayor made his announcement. Lawrence Local 416 District President Kris Kell said he was disappointed.
"I really felt that the city of Lawrence over the last several years has made big improvements, especially for the fire department (and) public safety, and now we went backwards"," Kell said.
Kell believed the department went back about 15 years. He was disappointed because he felt they had finally met industry standards.
By eliminating the civilian EMT's, firefighters, who are also trained EMT's and paramedics, will be moved to ambulances. Kell said the concern is firefighters will have to take care of other responsibilities instead of fighting fires.
"When it comes to EMS time is life and, you know, when you run that short it's going to jeopardize someone," he said.
Kell said the city took the easy way out by laying people off. He said their next move is to get the EMT's back.
"We've got to get them back, if there's any way possible to get them back as soon as possible. So, the public safety, the citizens of Lawrence don't see any issues (or any) gaps in public safety, which there will be," he said.
EMT Brandon Wilch has worked for the city of Lawrence for more than two and a half years. He found out Friday he was let go.
"It's disheartening. You put your blood, sweat, and tears into, not only, it's not a job. It's a career," Wilch said.
He agreed with Kell, saying the city took a step backwards.
"This is my full time job. So, losing that means I have to find something else or another department that I can replace that income," Wilch said.
His coworker, Elizabeth Goodner, also found out Friday her job was cut.
"I don't have anywhere else to go."
She said it is tough looking for a job as a civilian paramedic, especially now that so many of her brothers and sisters are too.
"We're left to fend for ourselves. I guess we're lucky in this sense that we got notified at all," Goodner said.
Goodner said she provides 50 percent of her household's income. She got married less than a month ago and has almost finished buying a home. She said the firefighters are capable of doing everything. She said she is proud of everyone, but expressed her disagreement with the mayor's decision.
"To take away 1/5 of the department and expect for things to remain the same just isn't possible. It would be like taking away 1/5 of your body and expecting for you to be able to work the exact same," Goodner said.
Besides the EMT positions, Johnson said five positions or vacancies from other departments were cut. While the announcement was made Friday, the change won't go into effect until Oct. 12.
Lawrence City Council At-Large Member Jeff Coats issued the following statement Friday:
"Today's (Friday, Oct 5th) announcement from Mayor Jessup regarding public safety layoffs is both frustrating and disappointing. Most members of the city council, myself included, believe there are other ways to address our budget problems that don't marginalize our public safety responsibilities.
"The city council has provided everything the Mayor has asked for in order to address this fiscal crisis. We've increased ambulance fees, reduced retirement contributions (temporarily) and signed off on a proposed merger of Lawrence ambulance services with Indianapolis EMS. The Mayor eventually abandoned the proposed merger.
"We've also provided sound, concrete, achievable ideas to address both the city's short term and long term budget challenges. Some of these include selling off unused assets, centralizing the purchase of supplies and materials to save money, privatizing trash collection as many cities have done and restructuring our employee health insurance plan. Despite the Mayor's own assertions that the city's budget is in a dire condition, none of the proposed remedies have been acted upon.
"Metaphorically speaking, the city's budget is in dire need of a weight loss plan. The majority of the city council believes we can achieve this through an aggressive but responsible "diet" - not through the amputation of the city's right arm."