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August 21, 2014

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Rory Reid says firefighters union resorting to ‘scare tactic’ with ad

Rory Reid

Rory Reid

Rory Reid slammed the Clark County firefighters union Monday for its full-page newspaper advertisement that accused him of pushing a plan that will result in “unjustifiable delays in life saving expertise.”

The ad singles out Reid because “as chairman of the Clark County Commission, Rory Reid is in charge.” Union leaders also know that as the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Reid is the commissioner with the most at stake. So the ad repeatedly calls the moves the county is making to slash millions from the fire department’s budget “the Reid plan.”

The ad says elimination of the county’s heavy rescue and hazardous materials teams and other staffing rearrangements going into effect by the end of this month are removing county residents’ “lifeline in car accidents, flash flooding and chemical releases” and reducing protection for the Strip.

Reid said he doesn’t buy it.

“The firefighters want the public to think this is about safety,” Reid said. “In fact, the only thing at risk is the firefighters’ paycheck and that’s what this is all about.”

“They’re trying to bully me and I won’t be bullied,” Reid added. “It’s a redundant service. Response times will be exactly the same and the public will be protected. The only difference is firefighters will receive several million less.”

Ryan Beaman, president of the county firefighters union, said the union felt compelled to begin a “series of ads.” By e-mail, he said the union feels the decisions “were made without planning. They simply didn’t discuss this with experts in heavy rescue.”

As an example of “how little thought Reid put into the process,” he cites Reid’s contention that response times won’t be increased by giving heavy rescue and hazmat responsibility to Las Vegas.

“Just show me how you can travel 12.3 miles from the city fire station on the corner of Washington and Buffalo in the same time that it takes to drive 3.7 miles from Russell and Decatur to the heart of the Strip.”

“This isn’t a game,” Beaman said, which is the same thing Reid said months ago after a Las Vegas firefighter said she wanted “to shoot” his colleague, Commissioner Steve Sisolak.

“This is about saving lives,” Beaman said. “That’s why we started this series of ads.”

But Reid countered that none of the duties being turned over to Las Vegas are first-response vehicles. The hazmat and heavy rescue units are typically called after first-responders, such as fire suppressors and EMS units, have arrived. In only 45 calls in 2009, he said, were hazmat or heavy rescue called alone.

The plan proposed by the fire chief appears to have widespread political support — five of seven commissioners told the Sun in early June they like the idea. They don’t have to vote on it because the changes are being made administratively.

While the plan won’t result in firefighter layoffs, it will shut down the county’s heavy rescue and hazardous materials teams. It will also eliminate two associated rescue units and move four firefighters from office jobs into the field. The calls that had been going to those teams will now be covered by Las Vegas Fire & Rescue teams as part of a mutual-aid agreement.

The moves free up firefighters — captains, engineers, firefighters and others who had been tethered 24/7 to the heavy rescue and hazmat equipment — to become part of a rotation of relief employees slotted to cover for absent firefighters at straight pay, instead of the overtime usually paid out.

Over the next year, these job shifts are expected to cut overtime by $4.5 million. Another $1 million in overtime savings is expected by ending full-time staffing for two on-call trucks: one hauls breathing apparatus to fire scenes, another hauls extra water when hydrants can’t be found. That staffing change has begun.

Last year the county paid $15.3 million in overtime to roughly 640 firefighters, or about $589,000 every two weeks. In comparison, overtime pay for the rest of the county’s 3,677 general fund employees totaled roughly $2.7 million.

But overtime pay is not mentioned in the full-page ad, which a Review-Journal advertising representative said would cost $11,592 for weekday publication at the daily rate. If the union bought ad space for multiple days, it could have gotten a volume discount.

The backdrop to all this is that the union and the county are negotiating a labor contract.

The ad also comes during a week when 109 county employees — none of them firefighters — are to be told they will be laid off July 6. Another 50 part-timers are also being let go. And more than 100 vacant jobs will be added to a growing list of county positions that won’t be refilled.

Click to enlarge photo

Tom Collins

Commissioner Tom Collins, who expresses his firefighter support by visiting different fire stations each month, defended Reid on Monday.

“I think it’s kind of awful to attack Rory Reid,” Collins said. Last week, “the cowboy commissioner” told the Sun that he “loved” the cost-reduction plan.

He then hinted that Beaman, the union president, isn’t doing what his members want him to do.

“Ryan Beaman probably needs to listen to his members a bit more,” Collins said. “I don’t think any of them want pay cuts, but I think there are ways they can meet budget shortfalls, and that could mean premiums that can be cut back on.”

The ad repeats Beaman’s prior statements about how the fire union has offered “solutions” during “tough financial times.” The “concessions” that the union offered last year, however, would have ended up costing the county $3.8 million more than they would have cut, county officials said. When the county refused the offer, the union alleged the county was endangering cancer patients because the union had wanted its “savings” to fund a cancer clinic at University Medical Center.

The ad also warns that a single tanker of chlorine, manufactured in Southern Nevada, has enough chemical “to kill 150,000 people.”

“(The) Hazardous Materials Team would be the first to respond,” it concludes.

Under the new system, however, the hazardous materials team would still be the first to respond, it would be Las Vegas Fire & Rescue’s team instead of the county’s.

The ad warns that the changes “will increase the time it takes to respond to a life-threatening emergency by as much as 300 percent.”

The ad concludes by urging readers to call Reid and tell him to change course. It then lists his office phone number.

About halfway through the day, Reid’s office had received about 30 phone calls, a county spokeswoman said, with more than half of those favoring the plan to reduce firefighter overtime.

Reid said the ad only strengthened his convictions.

“It’s a scare tactic whose purpose is to divert attention from the fact that firefighters have been unwilling to help us through a very difficult economic period, and I’m going to continue to do what’s right for the public and to demand they be more responsible,” he said.

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