RATIFIED: Forest Park Firefighters Association Union Local 2753 looks pleased after the village council unanimously approved new contract. Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

Forest Park will be bringing paramedic services back in house after 34 years of contracting them out to a third-party vendor.

This is a major change in the new contact between the village and the Forest Park Fire Fighters Association Union Local 2753, which village commissioners unanimously approved on Jan. 9.

While the change will represent around $100,000 increase over the next 10 years, Village Administrator Moses Amidei told the Review that it would relieve staffing shortages that became increasingly common in the past few years.

In addition, he said, the increase would be less than what the village’s current contractor, Metro Paramedic Services, was proposing.

The village’s contract with Metro expires in March. As part of the new union contract, Forest Park agreed to hire three firefighter/paramedics by May 1, and then one firefighter/paramedic a year until April 30, 2026.

Forest Park will be using a “Silver Spanner” program, hiring union firefighter/paramedics from other fire departments, to supplement the workforce until the staffing is at full strength.

Under the current contract with Metro, Forest Park provides the ambulance, but the company hires the paramedics to staff them. The contract called for six paramedics – two per 8-hour shift.

But in recent years, Amidei said, Metro had trouble providing the necessary staff, forcing the union firefighters, most of whom are already trained as either paramedics or emergency medical technicians, to work overtime to pick up the slack. This came as the volume of ambulance calls has been increasing.

Amidei described it as an industry-wide issue that has been exacerbated by the fact that many paramedics who work for private companies end up joining fire departments, where they can get better wages and benefits.

He said the village paid Metro $470,000 a year, and the ambulance company proposed a $200,000 a year increase to account for the rising labor costs.

The new union contract is retroactive to May 1, 2022 and will expire on April 30, 2026. In addition to hiring more firefighter/paramedics in coming years, the contract allows Forest Park to bring in firefighters from other departments through the Silver Spanner program. Amidei said he was confident that it would be able to fill the staffing needs while reducing overtime.

While village would save money at first because new firefighters would be paid less, overall, bringing paramedics in-house would represent a $100,000 increase over the next 10 years compared to the current Metro contract.

But he said that the new arrangement will benefit the village on the long run because it will bring more stability in terms of staffing and reduce the burden on the firefighters.

“There will be financial impact over the long period,” Amidei said. “However, where the market is, in terms of labor and sustainability, and not stressing out and overburdening our personal, who have already seen increasing call of service, [it’s not sustainable]. Every year, we break our own records.”

Commissioner Joe Byrnes said that he was happy with the contract, saying that he was grateful for firefighters who filled in while Metro was short-staffed.

“I really appreciate the job that you’ve done, and now you’re getting six additional people, and they’re going to be part of you, they’re not going to be a paramedic contact company,” he said.

A group of firefighters attended the Jan. 9 meeting. They described the contract as a culmination of a long struggle that’s been ongoing since Forest Park privatized paramedic services in 1989. Local 2753 Secretary Tim Ryan told the Review that the contact will not only ensure that paramedics have union benefits, but that union staff will be more invested in the community and are in it for a long haul.

“It’s a huge win for the department, and it was a pleasure to work with the village,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier with the contract.”