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.