Lawrence announces drastic cuts to stay in black

Firefighters will take over the ambulance runs in Lawrence.

A central Indiana town has said it's out of money for emergency medical care and wants firefighters to make up the difference.

Leaders in Lawrence have announced the city can no longer afford 24 paramedics. The city said the cuts to paramedics will mean the city can start the new year in the black.

Firefighters and paramedics had a different take, though, especially after one rescue this past July. That rescue came full circle Friday night at a special ceremony in Lawrence.

Two months after he was shot and nearly died, Fortville Police Officer Matt Fox thanked the people who saved his life with handshakes and hugs.

"The city of Lawrence medics arrived and they started working on me and then they transferred me to Methodist," said Fox of his experience.

But on the same night he was honored for his work saving Fox, Lawrence Paramedic Darren Study found out in 10 days, he'll be out of a job.

"It's bittersweet," said Study.

Study's job is just one of 24 paramedic positions being cut. It will be up to Lawrence firefighters to cover ambulance runs now for the city.

"You release that staffing and it is going to effect public safety," said Lawrence firefighter Kris Kell and president of the union Local 416.

Kell says without paramedics, there will be fewer firefighters to go out on fire calls, which could mean crews waiting for more help to get to a scene.

"So what was maybe a kitchen fire is now a kitchen and a living room fire," said Kell.

The city of Lawrence, though, said the money just wasn't there to keep paramedics on staff, but they said they didn't believe public safety would suffer without them.

"Our fire chief assured Mayor Jessup we can do it. This is how we used to do it. Firefighters can ride out on an ambulance. The city will be safe," said the mayor's deputy chief of staff, Keith Johnson.

The city said their current money problems go back to 2010 when Lawrence took on a fifth fire station that belonged to Lawrence Township.

"Along came the cost of 18 firefighter salaries and six EMS salaries, which equal about $2 million," explained Johnson. "There was no permanent source of revenue to pay that $2 million."

That led to what the city calls a "terrible fiscal nightmare," ultimately giving the mayor no choice - make cuts somewhere or run out of money.

"I can't put the blame on anybody. I just know that I've been told I'm not going to have a job come October 15th," said Study.

For Fox, who said he owed his life, in part, to Darren Study, "It is disheartening."

Fox said he was just thankful, in his greatest hour of need, Study was there to help him.

The city said the number of fire stations, fire engines and ambulances would not decrease, thus they don't think response time to emergencies will change.

The men and women who do the job in the field, though, clearly disagreed.

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The City of Lawrence is laying off its emergency medical technicians, according to the mayor's office.

Lawrence has 24 EMTs. Four of them have already found new jobs, while the remaining 20 have been put on notice they will be laid off effective Oct. 15.

Five employees in other departments are also losing their jobs. Each department in the city now has at least one person laid off or a vacant position which will remain unfilled.

Every city employee will now pay an additional three percent into their retirement fund.

The mayor's office says the city will save $2 million as a result of the layoffs and other changes.

According to the mayor's office, the mayor opted to take the action immediately rather than wait until the new year because the city was planning to spend the its cash balance down to near zero by year's end. Without taking this action immediately, said mayor's office Chief of Staff Keith Johnson, the city ran the risk of running out of money. He says this action will permit the city to end fiscal 2012 in the black.

Johnson said the city will be able to keep all five of its fire stations operational by staffing them with four firefighters instead of three. Firefighters, all of whom are trained EMTs, will operate the ambulances based in all five fire stations.