Arbitrator rules in favor of city, ambulance service could be ditched

Local News

MATTOON, Ill. (WCIA) — The city’s ambulance service could be gone in the near future, leaving people with fewer options.

An arbitrator sided with the city saying the current contract doesn’t require the city’s ambulance service to stay with the fire department.

“Our ambulance service, if you took the employees’ costs in, as well as if you were running it like a business, we were actually losing money,” says City Administrator Kyle Gill. 

That’s where the tough decision came in for the city to cut its ambulance service to help save money.  So the fire department filed a grievance in return. 

An arbitrator has agreed the city hasn’t done anything to break the contract with the union.  

“It’s a resolution saying we were going to get out of the ambulance service May 1. We’re not ready to get out of it May 1,” says Gill. 

“We’re a little upset with the decision. We want to be able to provide this and to have somebody you can’t provide a service to your community is a blow to you,” says fire department engineer Bart Owen.   

The fire department has two of the six total ambulances covering the city. The other four are run by two private companies. Those companies say they’re ready to take over.

“They voiced their opinions saying they could step up and could take care of the city,” says Gill. 

The decision puts the ambulance service on life support as the city and fire department negotiates more. 

“If our department is staffed with 30 members and we’re still providing ambulance coverage, we can provide the absolute best coverage in the city,” says Owen.  

“Both sides are looking at what they think is best for the community. We have different opinions but both of us, the council and union feel strong that they want to take care of the community,” says Gill.  

With the negotiations in the works, the city has to find out the impact of possibly losing the service,  have more talks with other companies, and finalizing the fire department’s latest contract. 

“We still want to provide this service. We will still fight to provide this service,” says Owen. 

The fire department has had 24 firefighters on staff. Just last week, an arbitrator ruled there needs to be 30. They always have a minimum of eight on duty.

Overtime jumped from 1,400 hours two year ago to 5,500 this fiscal year. The city says it was spending less on overtime with fewer firefighters than having all 30.

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