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January 9, 2012

Ill. city considers private ambulance company

By Elena Ferrarin

ELGIN, Ill. — Elgin has started to look into contracting a private ambulance company to provide supplemental paramedics after the city's agreement with its firefighters union expired Dec. 31.

A request for qualifications for ambulance services was posted on the city's website on Friday, Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain said. If the city decides to hire an outside company, it only would be to provide two additional paramedics per shift.

The fire department's shift staffing was increased from 34 to 36 beginning Jan. 1 because its union, the Elgin Association of Firefighters Local 439, refused to extend an agreement that called for a so-called "jump company" to make up the difference, Kaptain said. Under that provision, one fire station responds to either ambulance calls or fire calls, not both.

The staffing increase means the city is facing an additional $2,000 daily expense, currently being paid out as overtime, Kaptain said.

A four-year contract implemented in 2007 called for 36 firefighters per shift, but a 2010 variance agreement allowed that number to be reduced to 34, along with a 4 percent pay raise, said union President Vince Rychtanek.

The agreement was extended in 2011, this time without a raise.

City officials approached the union too late with their proposal to extend last year's agreement while a new contract is negotiated, Rychtanek said.

Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy said that using a jump company has worked "perfectly," with a fire response time gain of one minute, and an ambulance response time loss of six seconds.

"I can't spend another $2,000 per day of city money when it's not going to improve services for citizens," Fahy said.

Kaptain said he hopes the union will decide to extend last year's agreement, at least while contract negotiations are ongoing.

The union will submit its proposal Jan. 17 and negotiations are expected to begin in about three weeks. An eventual contract with a private ambulance company would be subject to collective bargaining negotiations, Rychtanek said.

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