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Mass. medic loses job for not becoming firefighter

She said she requested to enroll in the academy to meet the new requirements, but the fire chief denied her request

BELCHERTOWN, Mass. — One of four Belchertown paramedics laid-off after not becoming a firefighter lashed out at town officials, saying she was not told that it was required to keep her job.

April Fernandes was in tears Monday after selectmen approved Fire Chief Edward Bock’s restructuring of the ambulance service – which included laying off four long-serving and stand-alone paramedics, Masslive.com reports.

The new arrangement, approved 3-1, involves combing departments to provide a fire-based EMS, and requiring all medics to also serve as firefighters. The four losing their positions were not trained firefighters.

Fernandes said she requested to attend the academy in April, but Bock refused her request, and now she has lost her job despite efforts to meet the new requirements.

She said she also asked Bock three years ago if she needed to complete the firefighter academy to keep her position, and he told her it was not necessary.

"[Bock] did not tell us the truth – I was lied to,” Fernandes said.

When Selectman William Barnett – the only member to vote against approving the restructuring – asked Bock if he provided the four an opportunity to enroll in the firefighter academy to keep their jobs, he replied "No.”

Barnett also asked if the chief knew why the four did not want to also be firefighters, adding, “Do they know they will be laid off?”

“I am not sure,” Bock said

Barnett said he was very concerned by how the situation as handled.

“That is not how somebody should be treated,” he said. “That is not the way I was brought up and not how Belchertown should operate.”

Selectman Ron Aponte supported the change that resulted in the layoffs.

“It is not the chief’s job to find out their career aspirations,” he said. “The most important thing for us to consider is the safety of the town.”

In addition to Fernandes, Jack Kennedy, Emily Chandler and Kate Sullivan lost their jobs.

Belchertown resident Paul Fenn, who serves as a firefighter-paramedic in nearby Agawam, gave the selectman a one-page document urging the selectman to investigate the matter.

“The town is laying off the past union president (Kennedy) and all full-time females (Chandler, Sullivan and Fernandes) without giving any of them the option to upgrade to firefighters,” he wrote. “Does the town need to potentially put themselves in the sights of a lawsuit that the taxpayers don’t want to pay?” 

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