MUNCIE, Ind. — Members of Delaware County EMS that were in the Muncie Fire Department union Local 1348 have walked out after months of frustration and feeling they have been stabbed in the back by the group that was supposed to represent them.
In an interview with DCEMS paramedics Rob Swoboda, Larry Crouse and Jay Scott — all of whom have been in the union for nearly two decades or more — they said they felt like they were being used as chess pawns.
According to them, all 19 members of DCEMS that were members of the union resigned from the union on April 9 with one having resigned in October. Members of DCEMS have been a part of the union for more than 20 years.
“We were told we were a minority,” said Scott, a stark turnaround from how they had felt in the past. “We were always made to feel we worked together.”
The three DCEMS members wanted to make clear they have no issue with Muncie’s firefighters, but instead have been let down by the lack of support from union leadership when their own jobs were on the line.
“It’s just been a very uncomfortable thing,” Swoboda said.
Crouse, who left the union in October, wrote a three-page letter to union president Jason Chafin and the other members of the union. In that letter, he spoke about his strong support for the union when it came to defending firefighters’ jobs by lobbying politicians and being a vocal proponent.
According to him, the gesture hasn’t been returned.
In the letter, Crouse spoke about former union president Larry Delk, who he says told the city council that any plan that would cost union jobs would be unacceptable. Delk wrote an email to council in support of fire-based EMS, which could potentially cost DCEMS jobs.
That plan, generated by Mayor Dennis Tyler and Muncie Fire Department Chief Eddie Bell, has called for the purchase of three ambulances for use by the Muncie Fire Department, a scaled-back version of a different fire-based EMS plan that was brought up in 2017.
Jason Chafin, president of the fire department union, told the Star Press in February that the plan is more along the lines of what the union recommended to the city earlier last year.
According to him, the plan could help members of both DCEMS and MFD, which were all in his union.
The study solicited by the city of Muncie from the International Association of Firefighters recommended that the city of Muncie follow through on its plans to create its own EMS ambulance service, but hire every member of Delaware County EMS to staff it.
The current plan has no provisions for DCEMS members.
Both EMS Director Jason Rogers and staff of Delaware County EMS have disputed Chafin’s claims that fire-based EMS wouldn’t affect DCEMS.
In March, the union voted in favor of the current plan by city officials, a move that was the final straw for DCEMS members.
“My guarantee to this union body is that nothing changes between me and every brother and sister I work alongside. I’m still your friend, I’m just not funding an organization that does not support mine,” Crouse wrote in his resignation.
Jay Scott also wrote a letter to the union saying that there were serious concerns about how the union’s actions have affected Delaware County EMS. Scott’s letter of resignation was undersigned by the other members also leaving the union.
Accoridng to Scott’s letter, the members were leaving for a variety of reasons.
“This includes multiple grievances, unfair representation as an EMS group, manipulated studies and continued negotiations for fire-based EMS within city government without assistance from anyone on the EMS side of the local,” Scott wrote.
The three said they were positive that any foothold for a city-based ambulance plan would expand, slowly nudging out DCEMS and their livelyhoods.
“There’s not a single person that works on an ambulance in the union, as far as DCEMS, that backs this plan,” Crouse said.
Chafin said he didn’t want to comment on the inner workings of the union, but felt that the idea to leave was a mistake.
“When the city first proposed (a fire-based EMS plan), we were against it. We would not support a plan that we felt endangered the jobs of our full-time EMS members,” Chafin said.
The union president again reiterated that DCEMS is understaffed and because of workloads are seeing a rapid amount of turnover in their ranks. When asked if the plan itself was to justify firefighter jobs; Chafin said absolutely not.
“It’s about adding 3 more ambulances to the street. The department doesn’t have to do this to justify manpower,” Chafin said.
According to Scott, however, the uncertainty over what a city-based ambulance service would mean for DCEMS has hurt morale and retention of paramedics for them.
“We’re at a point until this thing all blows over that I don’t blame Jason (Rogers) for not going to and asking for more people,” Scott said.
That in the end is why it could seem that they are understaffed.