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Union fights to save services


Ishpeming Firefighters Local 1858 is organizing an informational picket Wednesday in response to City Manager John Korhonen’s proposal to eliminate the city’s ambulance service and convert to an all-volunteer fire department. The picket will begin at 6 p.m. in front of the old Roosevelt Bar on Division Street next to Globe Printing. Hot dogs, brats and soda will be available.

“We’re asking the public to join us at the picket and join us in our fight to keep our fire department and ambulance service as it is,” said Bob Anttila, a member of Local 1858 and one of the city’s seven full-time firefighter/paramedics whose jobs are at risk.

Local 1858 is comprised of six of the city’s seven full-time firefighter/ paramedics: Anttila, Curt LeSage, Don Manty, Earl Oja, Brad Nelson and Joe Perry. Fire Marshal Brian Gleason, also a paramedic and supervisor of the city’s ambulance service, is represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Supervisors’ Union. All seven employees are city of Ishpeming taxpayers.

Following the picket, Ishpeming’s fire and emergency medical service staff plans to address their concerns at the Ishpeming City Council meeting that begins at 7 p.m. at the Ishpeming Senior Center, 320 S. Pine St.

“We urge citizens to attend the meeting Wednesday to show their support for us,” said Anttila, on behalf of Local 1858. “We also encourage people to contact the Ishpeming council members regarding the proposed cuts in their fire, police and emergency medical protection.

Eliminating the city of Ishpeming’s ambulance service is the wrong way to go about balancing the city’s budget, according to the members of Local 1858.

“The local feels that it’s time the city start working with the union to find a solution through proactive management, more aggressive collection and budget realignment,” the union said in a written response to Korhonen’s 2006 budget recommendation to cut services, including turning the ambulance operation over to Bell Hospital.

“It’s time to stop reducing services to residents and taxpayers of this community,” according to the union statement. “It seems to us that whenever there are budget woes, the easiest solution is to cut labor and services.”

Discontinuing Ishpeming’s ambulance service and switching to a strictly volunteer fire department could negatively impact the city’s plans for future development, according to the union. The city recently amended the Downtown Development Authority’s Tax Increment Financing Development Plan to include an additional $19.3 million in projects.

“Potential businesses coming into the city will invariably look at the services provided, which will weigh in on their decision to invest in this area’s development,” the union response said.

The union stated it believes the proposed cuts will have “disastrous consequences” for the taxpayers and the city of Ishpeming.

“We have a $650,000 budget and we’ll recoup everything except $50,000,” Anttila said. “That’s $50,000 to operate a full-time 24-7 fire and EMS department. What price tag can be put on a life, home or property?”

Ishpeming’s fire and ambulance departments have a long history of providing the highest quality emergency service to the community and surrounding areas, Anttila said.

The departments provide police dispatching, EMS coverage at a number of community events, and community service programs such as fire prevention programs and CPR and EMS training, he said.

“Speak to your local firemen,” he said. “Ask them the value of having full-time trained operators, knowing that when the whistle sounds, the truck and the equipment will be ready and operating properly.”

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