Las Vegas Sun

July 26, 2014

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Under scrutiny, firefighter sick leave falls

Year-to-year pay-period comparison is further evidence of firefighters’ abuse of the system, commissioner says

Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Firefighters: Game over.

In the two pay periods since an arbitrator agreed with Clark County that firefighters appeared to be treating sick leave like vacation days, their use of sick leave has fallen 46 percent.

At the fire station at McCarran International Airport, where firefighters appeared to have made a fine art of gaming the system, sick leave plummeted 83 percent.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, leader of the fight to abolish sick-leave abuse — which drives up overtime costs, which may trigger more taxpayer contributions to retirement accounts — said it’s more proof that the men and women of the department had been scamming the system.

“It’s more clear and convincing evidence of a pattern to take sick leave when it wasn’t appropriate,” Sisolak said. “Under scrutiny, they’ve obviously curtailed taking sick leave. It’s a sign to the sheriff and the district attorney and the FBI that there’s been a problem.”

He said the FBI and Metro Police are trying to determine if criminal investigations are warranted.

In 2009, 231 firefighters missed a month or more of work due to sick leave, while another dozen spent three months on sick leave, according to county records. (Firefighters work 10 shifts per month — 24 hours each — meaning that the 231 called in sick at least 10 times a year.) E-mail among firefighters and their supervisors showed some were planning sick leaves far in advance, and combining them with vacation time. Such machinations in turn activated extensive overtime for those filling in for “sick” firefighters, evidence Sisolak says shows some were manipulating the system coming and going.

In a memo obtained by the Sun, Assistant County Manager Ed Finger compared sick-leave use in two 2011 pay periods to the same periods in 2010. This year’s pay periods occurred right after an independent arbitrator granted the Fire Department greater control in managing sick leave.

Fire administrators can now demand a doctor’s note if an employee calls in sick five times in a year; previously, the note was required only if four consecutive sick days were used.

Additionally, fire battalion chiefs — some of whom, by e-mail, approved requests by other battalion chiefs seeking sick days months ahead of time — no longer handle those requests. Also, county managers, human resources, the fire chief and deputy chiefs will review sick-leave use regularly.

New County Manager Don Burnette has also said sick-leave abusers will forfeit six months, equal to 144 hours, of sick time, and serious abusers may be fired or demoted.

After exposure of the problem and the potential punishments of abusers, county officials expected sick-leave use to fall.

And it did.

In a memo to county commissioners, Finger reported:

• Airport firefighters used 83 percent less sick leave.

• Sick leave among fire investigators fell 67 percent.

• Sick leave at the Laughlin station fell 63 percent. (Measures to save money also reduced Laughlin’s staff 29 percent in July.)

• Among the suppression units, sick leave fell 40 percent and, among fire prevention officers, 36 percent.

Sisolak said the drop in the use of sick leave is evidence — not just a smoking gun but “bullets you can put in the gun” — that firefighters were abusing the system and have now stopped because they were caught.

“This is no coincidence,” he said. “This is a shame. And it’s not everyone, but they are making everyone in the department look bad.”

To the commissioner, the airport and Laughlin sick-leave declines are red flags possibly indicative of “collusion” among firefighters, as those stations are essentially closed working groups: Airport firefighters are specially trained and can only substitute for sick airport firefighters, and Laughlin is 100 miles south of Las Vegas. “So those firefighters substitute only for each other and might work out their sick days to build up overtime for each other,” he said.

Not everyone thinks that way, however. Commissioner Tom Collins hardly thinks two pay periods are enough to reach any kind of conclusion. “What will it be in six months? That’s where you get a better measure.”

He figured some firefighters are now cutting back on sick leave even if they have legitimate reasons to take it because “they know they are under the microscope.”

Then he tore into Sisolak, accusing him of grandstanding for the media and of “throwing Clark County under the bus.”

“He’s got an agenda to get his name out there because the county has always had the authority to take any case they wanted to the district attorney right now,” Collins said. “They’ve got the opportunity and they should have the morals to bring a case to the DA if they think they have a case.”

County and fire management, he added, “has allowed the culture to exist that allows for this kind of thing. It’s just been ... poor management.”

Sisolak said he was perplexed but not angered by Collins’ comments.

He disagreed that the county has had the tools all along to attack sick-leave abuse, saying the tools are available now, but only because of the arbitrator’s decision.

“There simply wasn’t the ability before to do this and now there is,” he said. “So that’s what we’re starting to do, get it taken care of.”

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  1. Congratulations to Sisolak & a pox on my representative, Collins! Collins is merely a shill for unions and couldn't care less if they or their members cheat the public so long as he gets their support! Meanwhile, it's the sunshine that the "Fourth Estate" brought upon this practice that is the real hero here. This is an example of why the Founding Fathers thought it so important to have a free press and instituionalized it in the 1st Amendment.

  2. Statements like the one from Commissioner Tom Collins is just one reason why we have abuse in the County system. Thanks Tom for your support of the fire fight.

  3. Monitoring sick leave usage is a simple matter and it's the responsibility of FD management to track the usage. It's not rocket science. It sounds to me like no one above the rank of Captain was doing their job.

  4. One word; BUSTED!!

  5. AND WE SHOULD RAISE TAXES TO SUPPORT WASTE, FRAUD AND ABUSE ?

    LET'S TALK ABOUT UMC COLLECTING LESS THAN 5% OF THE MONEY THEY ARE OWED BY INSURANCE COMPANIES.

    AND THE UMC PRESIDENT KEEPS HER JOB BY THE PROTECTION OF THE COUNTY COMMISSION !!

  6. Too bad I don't live in Mr. Collins district. It would give me such great pleasure to vote him out of office.

    Of course the firefighters worry they are being watched. They are. And good thing. This is just as bad as if they came into our homes and took the money right out of our pockets. Their friends and neighbors pockets. And they continued their stealing when they knew result would mean job losses for their fellow workers. They are morally reprehensible.

  7. It's time to combine sick leave and vacation into personnel time and end this practice.

  8. Chunky says:

    People do what you inspect, not what you expect!

    Maybe the tide has turned on this but they still need to investigate, prosecute and seek restitution for the taxpayers if the circumstances and evidence warrant it.

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  9. "He's got an agenda", sure Tommy, it's called putting BETTER USE OF HARD WORKING TAX PAYER MONEY...You JERK! How dare you shoot the messenger after YOU are one of the rare few that have created this environment of robbing the tax payer! Now I can't remember why I had respect for you at one time, since your recent comments have flushed away that respect but you are a total idiot. Poor Tommy, you might not like how Sisolak is going about getting the word out, fine, but don't comment on the innocence of these DIRT BAG Clark County firefighters......by the way, can't wait to see how many of these dirt bag Clark County firefighters have to foreclose (and hopefully) move out of Vegas. And don't give me any of that, 'Well then, who will fight the fires in Vegas' junk. *knock knock, Vegas has a very small percentage of fires when compared to any city 1/4 the size of Vegas back east!

  10. It is interesting how smoke inhalation injuries drop with administrative oversight. Could it be that the fires now have 83% less smoke?

  11. steve sisolak is...
    THE FRICKIN MAN!!!
    hey stevie...
    run for governor buddy...
    private birdie reporting for duty el capitan!!!

  12. To all the commissioners... What does a fireman do in a 24 Hour Work SHIFT ??? How many fires does a fireman go to in a Year ??? First CUT the firemen Pay in HALF..Put the firemen on a 8 hour a day work shift.. 40 hours a week.. That would put a STOP to Paying firemen when they Sleep with taxpayers Money..and STOP Paying firemen when they EAT with Taxpayers Money..The Taxpayers are fed up Paying the firemen 200,000 Thousand Dollars or more a Year.. and then the Taxpayers have to pay the firemen 100,000 a year when they Retire.. THE WELL IS DRY.. Commissioners it is time to stop talking about these OVERPAID CROOKS.. Time to get BACK ALL of the MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS THE TAXPAYERS HAD TO PAY THESE CROOKS in SICK PAY and OVER TIME..

  13. to the CCFD firefighters union, and their "champion" Tom Collins:

    Burn, Baby, Burn

    the jig is up, you've been busted. stone cold busted.

  14. Taxes don't need to be raised. Cut back the fat in the CCFD, Metro, and the Clark County School District, and you will see what a savings this will create....The school district has useless meetings for principals to attend weekly...Food is served at this meetings all on tax payers dime. These adminstrators are never in their buildings 3/4 of the time. They aren't needed.....Let's get rid of the waste in state and county!

  15. big question , who are the idiots who vote tom collins into office?

  16. Only the FBI will save us now. it is called;
    R.I.C.O. racketeering, influence, corrupt organization and THAT IS;
    COPS, Fire Fighters, Clark County COMMISSIONERS
    I say arrest and jail all;
    use the PATRIOT ACT (they did w/ Galardi and the commissioners)

  17. So Commissioner Collins is accusing Commissioner Sisolak of grandstanding because he just saved us hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars by exposing a scam involving firefighter sick leave. If that is true, I hope that he keeps grandstanding. I suppose it is "throwing Clark County under the bus" because he didn't keep quiet and let it continue.

    I applaud Commissioner Sisolak and his service to the taxpayers of Clark County.

  18. If I had the power;
    Tom Collins investigation would be PRIORITY ONE
    PRIORITY TWO; Battalion chiefs AND under Racketeering, Influence, Organized Crime Act
    Big Brother can take everything they have and every will have.
    PUT THE FEAR of poverty and prison in front of them, they will sing like birds for a better deal.
    They may have the "gangster talk" down BUT these wimps CAN NOT and WILL NOT Walk the Walk!!!

  19. This is an obvious scam and has been going on for a long time. And not just here; it is common nationwide. The way the system is used results in high overtime costs and higher pensions, as intended by the scammers. The tax payer has been stolen from, over and over.

    The public has been rode hard, put up wet and supported of course by union reps and sympathizers to keep the goose laying those golden eggs. The author is correct in that it taints the whole department and will for years, including those who didn't run the scam.

    Time to clean house and prosecute all those who stole from the public. These are good paying jobs that provide plenty of quality training, career opportunities and benefits. There are many who would gladly apply for these positions and accept the responsibility of protecting the public without stealing from us.

  20. Sisolak wants his name in the paper again, can you write another article on firefighters.
    Have Sisolak explain how he allowed this to happen for 2 1/2 years when he ran for office on the platform of hiring more firefighters, take some blame commissioner.