By Sara Martino
Gloucester City News
GLOUCESTER CITY NJ-One of the eight firefighters scheduled to be laid off December 23, among others, spoke out against Mayor and Gloucester City Council during its December 21 meeting on their decision for the layoffs and a proposal to privatize the ambulance service.
Some of the comments were: “You are putting the residents of the City in jeopardy.”
“Was a study done on working with a reduced staff?”
“How can you proceed with plans without a study on the matter?” asked one 35-year member. “Reduction will have an impact on resident’s safety. You are making a pretty bold decision.”
The firefighters figured that there will be an 11-person reduction with eight lay-offs and three retirees.
“There shouldn’t be any safety problems once we get a privatized ambulance service,” Mayor William James responded.
The base of the matter is that the City and the firefighters could not negotiate a contract, Council members said.
One important factor was the questioning of why certain firemen were not allowed to respond to the two alarm house fire that occurred on December 15.
“They did not want us to respond because they would have to pay overtime,” one firefighter said after the meeting.
One reason is that the fire truck that was to be used was moved to a different location at the Gloucester Heights station, from the Jersey Avenue volunteer station, Council members said.
Experience and professionalism of the volunteers was also questioned at the time.
EMS workers wondered what was wrong with the ambulance service as provided by the Fire Department.
“Why privatize the service with strangers that are not familiar with the residents? Are the people going to receive a bill? Will Medicare pay for the senior citizen’s transports?” one woman asked.
Most of the solicitor’s and the council members’ com-ments seem to indicate that finances are the main reason for the layoffs and privatization of the ambulance.
A member of the Fire Department questioned if finances were the case.
“Why, Mr. Kearney (city solicitor) did you receive $100,000 from the city?”
Kearney said those monies were designated to himself to be the custodian of funds needed for the Southport project.
The idea of the possibility of giving the ambulance service to Cooper Hospital was criticized since, according to the firefighters, the hospital does not even supply an ambulance service presently. It is an untested service.
One resident even questioned if the reason the service might go to Cooper was to help out “George,” a reference to George Norcross, a chief executive at Cooper Hospital.
Residents Theresa Graham and Louisa Llewellyn said they were surprised of the possibility of privatization and of the layoffs.
“Please don’t destroy the city. We are a family,” they said.
“A lot of work still has to be done. We are at the beginning of the process,” Kearney said.