Furloughed Gary Firefighter Resorts To Panhandling

Updated: 1/4/11 – 9:42 p.m.

GARY, Ind. (CBS/WBBM) – A Gary firefighter who lost his job in a round of budget-cutting layoffs has resorted to panhandling to make ends meet.

Months ago, he was fighting fires. Then, he got laid off. Now, the father of four is panhandling along the streets in Gary, Ind. As CBS 2’s Pamela Jones found out, he’s not doing it only for the money.

Jason Pickering is a Gary firefighter, begging the public for help. His sign tells passersby he’s been laid off. And that his family of six is in need.

“It’s not even about the money. It’s just letting everybody know, 34 guys are gone,” said Pickering. “We’ve dedicated our lives to this city for 10-plus years and they just throw us to the curb like we’re garbage. The day after Christmas.”

Pickering is one of 34 firefighters the city says it had to furlough because of an ailing budget.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Felicia Middlebrooks Reports

But Pickering says it’s Gary residents who will suffer, waiting for help longer during emergencies.

“Everybody in the Miller community is going to be affected because there’s not going to be anybody out here,” said Pickering. “Hope and pray you don’t wreck your car on County Line Road.”

CBS 2 caught up with Pickering as Gary residents pitched in, donating money to Pickering.

“It’s not right. It’s not right. These guys need to have their job. They need to protect the city,” said one man.

Until he can get back to fighting fires, Pickering is donating his time, helping a buddy serve hot dogs and fries at a Portage restaurant; while he waits for word on other jobs he’s applied for.

And any other time, you’ll find him collecting a few bucks to supplement his $350 a week unemployment check.

“I had a guy the other day, yesterday, give me a hundred dollar bill and started crying when he gave it to me,” said Pickering. “He said it’s just sad everything has come to this.”

Pickering collected $400 in just a couple of days. He says the streets can get cold and lonely. Sometimes no one puts any money in his boot.

But he still wants to get his message out. Pickering is prepared to stay out here until someone changes things at the Gary Fire Department.

Gary officials say they’re confident there are enough firefighters still on the job to protect residents.

And Gary hopes to get a homeland security grant so it can bring back the furloughed firefighters.

  • Jackie Houston-Martinez

    This is truly sad, here you have a man willing to risk his life everyday for the people of his community, yet he is left hanging. I pray he will find work soon. May God bless him and his family. I know I will be praying for him.

  • Grant McGrane

    I caution Mr. Pickering affirming and announcing the amount of money he did collect while panhandling, because someone in the I.R.S. will capture that information and hold him accountable for income taxes. The money he received will be declared income by the I.R.S.; not a charitable donation.

  • Correy

    I still same shame on Mayor Clay for running an already poor city into the ground to only benefit him and his family. I hope the people of Gary wake upp soon and realize what has happened. Clay doesn’t even live in the city he works for. What does that say? May the 34 fireman find jobs soon.

  • Smash Crasher

    Another union suck terrified now that he has to get a job that doesn’t reward him with thousands of dollars of OT, free healthcare and outrageous pensions. Time to learn to exist outside of the public sector where he strapped the taxpayer feedbag on for 10 years. What is that these people can’t understand? Their unions have sucked the public dry. There is NO MORE MONEY to pay for firefighters to sit around for 35 hours and then respond for a minor traffic accident. Welcome to the real world.

    • Judiann

      @ Smash Crasher… You, and folks like you, obviously have never put your life on the line to help folks that you may not even know. The firefighters, and other public safety personnel, are not “sitting around” and collecting “thousands of dollars of OT”. Do you have any idea what a firefighter in the City of Gary even makes? Do you realize that almost all of them are forced to have a second, and sometimes a third, job just to make ends meet?! I’m a retired paramedic and former volunteer firefighter and my brother is a Gary firefighter…he is among the 34 that got laid off. We put our faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, that He will provide the solution to the problem in His time. He knows the sacrifices that these fine individuals make of their time, time away from their families on holidays, sometimes working 24, 48, 72 hours in a row without sleep, the injuries endured… and, much of the time, for a thankless public, like you, Smash Crasher. May God enlighten you and have mercy on your bitter soul. God Bless My Brother and Sister Firefighters, EMS Personnel and Police Officers.

    • Smasher Crasher is an idiot

      Smasher,get your facts straight before commenting on this story

  • St. Christopher

    It is a shame that Clay is allowed to get away with what he does. I refer to him as “Clay” because he does not deserve a title. He is an uneducated idiot. Did anyone happen to see him during election time on CNN? What an embarrassment to the city of Gary as well as to Northwest Indiana. He has a driver who drives him around in a Hummer? Has any tax payer checked the cost of a Hummer lately? Well Gary residents – you should because you paid for it, and his driver, and his very frequent dining at expensive restaurants. Not to mention his illegal real estate and business transactions. I doubt he even lives in Gary. Someone needs to have the FBI investigate him. The tax payers are paying for his fancy lifestyle and do not even know how much he abuses them. The city has an almost failing school system yet he closes libraries? That city needs extreme help, but not with him in charge. Senator Evan Bayh met with Clay to discuss how to “rebuild Gary”. Let’s hope Senator Bayh has more sense than to give money to Clay to do anything with the city. He won’t do anything but invite more crime, hire friends (with salaries more than doctors) and use the money for his personal wants. Firefighters save lives everyday – they are people who risk their lives to save someone else’s and they are being laid off? How about trading in that Hummer for a Ford? He is selfish and a criminal himself – he needs to be removed from office. Keep fighting for yourselves firemen and women – may God bless you in during this challenging time. You SAVE lives (not ruin them like Clay). Your sacrifices and extreme hard work are not forgotten. Be strong and know that Clay will lose someday – what goes around comes around. You are in my prayers.

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