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EMS service sues Texas city for retaliation

The owner says he’s being treated unfairly by the city after testifying in court that firefighters needed more than a 48-hour training course to become paramedics

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — The owner of a local EMS service who sued the city of Brownsville claims he’s being retaliated against after serving as an expert witness in a case between the city and the firefighter’s union.

Justin Oakerson of Intercity Ambulance Emergency Medical Technicians testified on behalf of the union that firefighters needed more than a 48-hour refresher course over two weeks to take and pass the National Registry Exam to become paramedics, the Brownsville Herald reports.

Instead, he told the city that a thousand-hour course would be necessary for firefighters to be considered adequately trained to act as paramedics, according to court documents.

“He was prepared to say that the matter was one of public safety and general public concern,” the complaint states.

Afterward, he said the city began retaliating against his businesses by no longer calling on him to transport patients and issuing a citation for operating an ambulance in the city without a formal license, which he had been doing for the past three years.

The lawsuit alleges that Brownsville also allows 10 other EMS businesses to operate without a license. He filed the suit April 10, and plans to seek a jury trial.

The situation stemmed from Oakerson being called as an expert witness in a previous lawsuit between the Brownsville Firefighters Association and the city, which was eventually settled and dismissed.

A condition of the collective bargaining agreement requires firefighters to pass the National Registry Exam to become paramedics, but the course for firefighters was dropped when instructors were not hired during a transition between two local colleges.

An entity called the Pan American Institute of Emergency Medical Science was created to try to fill in the training gap, but the state of Texas stepped in and said it wasn’t eligible.

Since there were 13 firefighters required to pass the exam under the contract, the city told them to take a 48-hour refresher course. The firefighter union sued, saying it wasn’t enough, and Oakerson testified that was indeed true.

Oakerson’s testimony forced the city to settle, firefighter union President Carlos Elizondo said.

Firefighters will now be able to wait until the city submits bids and finds a new paramedic course sanctioned by the state before taking the exam.

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