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April 24, 2014

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J. Patrick Coolican:

Governance is so bad, firefighters won’t even live in North Las Vegas

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Steve Marcus

North Las Vegas resident Robert McGlothin, left, listens to North Las Vegas firefighter Gary Polk in a neighborhood near Aliante Parkway and I-215 Tuesday, July 10, 2012. The firefighters are trying to increase community attendance at the North Las Vegas Mayor’s community meeting on Wednesday, July 11.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Off-duty North Las Vegas firefighters walked precincts this week, telling residents to pressure the city to reverse cuts in emergency services, including the rotating closure of one or two of the city’s eight firehouses any given day.

The firefighters can’t rely on their own votes in upcoming elections. Very few of them live in North Las Vegas.

Of the 171 fire department employees, only 13, or 8 percent, live in North Las Vegas, according to the city.

They average nearly $140,000 in wages and benefits, according to the city, so I guess we can hardly blame them for choosing to live in the tonier areas of the valley rather than beaten down Northtown.

Still, it seems a bit presumptuous to be telling citizens of North Las Vegas, people who actually live there, how they should deal with the city’s $31.9 million deficit. (Yep, I fall in this category, too.)

Come to think of it, maybe North Las Vegas should require public employees to live there so workers have a bit more stake in its recovery.

The city of Las Vegas has no residency requirement, but Boston and Chicago public employees have to live within city limits, and New Jersey state workers must live in the Garden State.

Jeff Hurley, the president of the firefighters union, lives in Las Vegas. He told me that although most of his members don’t live in North Las Vegas, they work there and are concerned about patient safety. (The vast majority of  911 calls for fire department help — 83 percent — are for medical reasons.)

“We know fires double in size every 60 seconds. We know survivability decreases with every minute” in a severe medical emergency, he said.

Click to enlarge photo

North Las Vegas Fire Capt. Jeff Hurley poses by a ladder truck at Fire Station 56 near Aliante Parkway and I-215 in North Las Vegas Tuesday, July 10, 2012. The station is not always open or open with reduced staff due to staffing problems, Hurley said. The station was open on Tuesday but without a rescue unit.

Previously, the city’s private ambulance company and fire crews would both respond to emergencies together, which reduced response times and is considered the industry gold standard.

The city’s current plan is to allow its private ambulance contractor to handle lower-level medical calls alone (more on that in my next column), lessening the need for fire crews.

I asked Hurley if he had an alternative to the city’s cost-cutting plans. He said other North Las Vegas employees, such as those represented by the Teamsters, weren’t being subjected to the same reductions that have caused firehouse brownouts.

The city counters that 125 employees, 60 of them Teamsters, have been laid off.

In the emergency resolution passed last month allowing the city to suspend public safety contracts, the city says firefighter compensation increased from $27.3 million in fiscal year 2007-08 to an estimated $32.7 million 2012-13.

Even so, the fire department has lost 32 people in the past year, or 15 percent — often to other departments — and replaced none of them, leaving the department the smallest per capita in Southern Nevada.

Because police and fire layoffs would threaten public safety even more, city officials say there was no choice but to suspend police and fire contracts to make necessary cuts.

Hurley noted that the firefighter union has made several rounds of concessions since the recession began, including no cost-of-living increase since 2009, and offered still more this year.

His assessment of the situation: “It’s a sinking ship.”

Hurley recently told the Review-Journal, “I wouldn’t want to live near a closed firehouse.”

Although most North Las Vegas firefighters aren’t likely to live near a closed firehouse given their out-of-town residency status, Hurley is correct that these service cutbacks are far from ideal. The rotating brownouts could force Clark County and Las Vegas emergency personnel to respond to North Las Vegas, creating shortages and increased response times all over the valley.

The fiasco in North Las Vegas, which is largely the result of the bipartisan hubris and myopia of last decade’s housing bubble, should teach us one thing: Bad governance carries consequences.

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  1. The Firefighters in North Las Vegas have already had enough pay cuts. In 2009 the highest paid person in the North Las Vegas Fire Department made over $661,000. Last year John Ocegura was the highest paid member but he only made about $452,000. See how much they've given up. Ocegura then retired at age 43 with a pension of over $100,000 a year. Now he's running for Congress. Let's help John qualify for another big government pension. John Ocegura for Congress!

  2. Hell they do not need to live here, for the money these people make they live in Summerlin or Henderson.......which is downright DISGUSTING......but since I live near the downtown corridor of NLV, I will never have to worry about seeing them here.......as is NOT an area with money

  3. It's my understanding that the Medicwest paramedics make make about $45,000 a year on the high end. Is that correct Darthfrodo, that 83% of the calls for the North Las Vegas Fire Department are actually for medical emergencies? The Firefighters get paid $140,000 a year to answer to the same calls. Why not have Medicwest answer all the calls? Then teach some of the Medicwest people how to fight fires, and have them take over the Fire Department. How many tens of millions of dollars could be saved by doing that?

  4. Mr. Brown.

    You might be surprised to hear this but the Medicwest paramedics that save your life do not make anything even close to the number you have posted here.

    Really is said that the schooling many of them have and the hours they put in how poorly they are paid.

    The guys driving the trash trucks make over twice what a Medicwest paramedic does.

  5. When I was a teenager I lived in a somewhat small town in the south for about a year. My dad, along with the fathers of many of my high school friends, was a volunteer firefighter. As I recall,the mayor of our town was a volunteer firefighter along with our county D.A. We even had a prominent neurosurgeon volunteer for the dept. I remember it being a point of pride with these guys that they didn't need any assistance from the large fire department who worked in the "big city" several miles away. I believe our department had one full time employee doing some kind of administrative work but everything else was done on a volunteer basis only.

    It is incomprehensible that our local firefighters are so grossly overpaid, especially considering that a high school diploma was the only requirement when they were hired. When I think about the volunteer firefighters we had, it makes me laugh because I believe EVERY one of those guys had at least earned a master's degree. Several, like my dad,had earned at least one Ph.D. Not to mention the neurosurgeon and the two other medical doctors who volunteered their time.

    Our local firefighters seem to view themselves as indispensable. They are ungrateful and arrogant and should be replaced. It wouldn't be difficult at all.

  6. So yesterday am traveling south on Maryland Parkway at Flamingo.......medical incident at bus stop....MedicWest is already on site tending to patient, and Clark County Fire and rescue pulls up for an assist. I think ALL the FDs are broken here.....protect and SERVE....so we have TWO emergency service vehicles, tending to ONE individual....redundancy might be fine, but THIS is ridiculous.

  7. North Las Vegas has received a terrible image because of its financial problems and the decisions it has made in the face of economic headwinds in recent years. The lion's share of the blame rests on the backs of the City's last two mayors, current Mayor Shari Buck and her predecessor Mike Montandon. Their leadership has been questionable at best. Montandon failed to watch and listen to the winds of change as they begin in the 2006 time frame and continued to spend and cut deals with big name developers who had committed to sell homes to investors
    in North Las Vegas communities,contrary in many instances to the purchase agreements which prohibited turning over these properties within the first year during which these homes would be owner occupied.

    In most instances these purchase contracts were not enforced and the properties remained vacant resulting in blight in many neighborhoods.

    After Montandon left the scene he was followed by Mayor Buck who climbed into office on the support of the police and fire fighters unions in exchange for granting them lucrative pay and benefit contracts. She has now reversed course and has joined forces with other council members to suspend these contracts. Rather than demonstrating
    leadership,Buck has created turmoil on the City Council.

    North Las Vegas has received alot of bad national publicity for its financial situation,massive layoffs and it's looming prospect of having its finances taken over by the state. North Las Vegas needs two things right now. First is a new name. As the fourth largest city in Nevada it should not have the image of being a Las Vegas suburb.Next it needs new leadership. Mayor Buck is in over her head and should go.

  8. Is the management of N. Las Vegas bad, I've only been here 10 months but it looks that way to me. There should be a complete overhaul of city management. Also, PD and FD unions need to stop being so greedy when most folks are working two minimum wage jobs with no benefits in an attempt to get by!

    In addition, there should be a residency requirement for public service employees of the city. Period!

  9. A couple more things....

    The thought of changing the city name from NLV to something else is dumb and does nothing to fix the underlying problems. Also, I moved here from New Milford CT which has an area of 64 square miles (compared to NLV at 79 square miles). New Milford is a completely a volunteer fire and emergency response system - and it works. Maybe NLV should look at that and see what those savings are?

    This is not a shot at the individual NLVFD firefighter (though I am not a fan of the union). I only bring it up for discussion!

  10. $140,000 a YEAR???!!! Holy crap - if I would have known this when living in NLV and was unemployed....

    MOST, if not all, FD's across the country have cross-trained fire fighters. Small town firefighters are now trained as paramedics. Way back when I still lived in Chicago, the Chicago Fire Department were cross trained as paremedics, one of the first departments in the country that started to do this.

    When a 911 call comes through - WHOEVER is closest is dispatched whether it is an ambulance or fire truck. That's why you see both responding. It's a back up system for emergencies.

    Someone mentioned they saw an incident and the paramedics were there already and then a fire truck pulled up. Most likely, the fire truck heard the call and responded anyway - just in case.

    If you are having a medical emergency - who the heck cares who shows up first? The cross-trained fire fighters are probably more trained as paramedics then a private ambulance.

  11. This is total BS! " $140,000!!" This is the reason why they need to impose a policy requiring police officers and firefighters to be residents of NLV.

    These outsiders come in to NLV - ask for astronomical pay and benefits from the residents of NLV - then they go and spend their money elsewhere!

    Fire these people! Get rid of them! There are plenty of NLV residents willing to do the job and provide a better level of professionalism - the kind that doesn't include putting up signs threatening residents that their "safety is no longer guaranteed since police aren't getting the big pay checks." This is extortion! A threat of this nature should be prosecuted just like any other common criminals engaged in extortion!

    Get rid of them! Do we not have any aspiring or current politician willing to stand up for the residents of NLV and put an end to this mob mentality?

    Fire these people! Fire them now! Enough of these people exploiting NLV and reaping these absurd salaries!

  12. Tom:

    After you have lived here longer you will see why
    the name North Las Vegas creates a negative image for the City. North Las Vegas historically has been known as "North Town", which is considered to be the "wrong side of the tracks" in the general area. It also conveys the impression we are a suburb of Las Vegas--we are not.

    Recent years have seen NLV incorporate large amounts of land and master planned communities.It is much more modern and has outgrown it old image. We truly need to break the bonds of the bad image, and get a new and more attractive image for our City. Maybe you will see this after being here a while longer. Nontheless I believe it is necessary for our future best interests, and hope we can get it done.

  13. Retired_Army: I would ADD that any promotion must include acceptance of a new pay scale and benefit package. The State LEGISLATURE HAS TO ACT to allow changes in retirement PERS and probably also for changes in job titles / pay plans--the Legislature "approves" each and every city and county budget so they're in this financial mess and inaction with both hands.

  14. Don't forget that's $140k a year for only working 10 days a month. They do 24hr shifts so they get to sleep on the taxpayer dime too.

  15. Good points Buddy. But consider the size and age of a New England house (think tinderbox) and also how far apart houses are not just in relation to each other but also 10 miles or more away from the one of two volunteer stations in town. It works there. Now, maybe you would have to look at more stations spread around the NLV community to cover the denser housing tracts and traffic concerns but.......

    And to be honest, with everything I read around here, I dont even know whether to expect a fire truck to show up in case of an emergency. I have the same expectations of the local police department. They seem to be able to give a lot of speeding tickets and are dead shots with chimps, but, show up in an emergency - who knows! Give you an example.

    About a month ago accidentally hit the panic button on my house alarm keychain. The fob was in my pocket and the corner of the cell phone must have pushed the button. The panic button mind you! ADT called us but we were outside and did not answer their call and they then confirmed that they called the NLVPD within 5 minutes. A month later they still have not shown up! Gives real confidence!

  16. NLV is broke.
    Mayor Buck says NLV is not broke, and nobody was laid off.
    Short term fix that will ultimately fail.
    PERS needs to be legislatively revamped ASAP.
    Won't happen.
    Rinse and repeat.

  17. Re By Buddy. Here's the deal; go to NEVADA POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE (www.npri.org), and read "What Pensions Cost and What They Really Cost". It may enlighten you and pull the PERS scales off your eyes.

  18. The City of North Vegas needs to be freed up to hire affordable personnel to handle fire department duties. Current wages are totally out of sync, with the recognition that unemployment is high and the city is nearly bankrupt. $140,000 sounds like a good salary for the chief, and about half of that for journey level fire fighters. Consider the wages of other people who live in the Las Vegas Valley. Most earn significantly below that.

  19. Re Buddy. Respect your comments, and may agree with some of them. Let's look at several cities in California that are or have declared BANKRUPTCY to escape public service union contracts that they can no longer afford. How does that improve public service? I am not against ANY UNION WORKERS. Unions created the middle class as we know it; this is going away as a result of greed and fraud. PERS must be addressed, or the current compensation package must be modified: the result of doing nothing will be nobody having anything. Can you agree. Regards.

  20. Cuts are needed but not in Public Safty. Although, the city needs to reign in some of their wages. If you are going to cut (which is needed) cut park service, close Craig Park before it opens (it going to be nothing but a drug infested hell-hole. I have found out one thing in my life. Whatever makes sense you can bet politicians will do the opposite.

  21. Just as I think CCSD employees should live near the schools they serve I think all public sector employees should live in the city, county or state that signs their checks. It gives the employee a stake in their communities. Will it ever happen? Probably not. I grew up in Chicago and you may not have liked the rule but it kept the policeman living down the street from our house.

  22. Thinking of NLV firefighter unions conduct, the contracts they've bullied the city into and their continuing sickouts and other tactics, what we have is a perfect example of why outsourcing to private fire and emergency services companies makes sense.

    It's hard to have sympathy for folks who are taking us to the cleaners, telling us we are the problem and threatening our safety in order to extort the tax payers out of what little we have left.

    I'm not impressed and I won't be intimidated.

  23. @jadalian: You may be correct about the volunteer fire departments in a city this big. I only offerred it for discussion. As for your other point about everyone "crying screw 'em" here's why.

    I lost any chance of a pension in '95 when my job for the insurer Aetna was downsized. I was a manager with 13+ years with the company. They sold us to a third party organization like we were just another piece of equipment or a slave. No severance, no health care, no nothing; after a certain day, we all transferred to the new employer who picked out brains for 6 months and then cut everyone that was in management - out, thats all there was too it.

    OK - crap happens, I understand that.

    Since 1995 I have had 6 jobs mostly in sales. Never missed quota, always had customers happy. Still - everyone one of those gigs ended with a downsize, outsource, or outright sale of the company in which most of us were no longer needed. See ya!

    Now, our POL friends are talking about eliminating social security and other benefits..... Soooo - as a 51 year old do you really expect me to be sympathetic to those in ANY public service union that has not had to fight to keep their jobs and benefits over and over and over again? Not to mention they continue to expect to have full health and other benefits for life?????

    Get real and understand the anger and tell them to get their butts to the negotiation table. I understand the critical and meritorious service that the FD and PD Departments give us, then again, I dont need to get your pension and healthcare demands thrown in my face day in and day out either!

  24. Working employees to high overtime hours is a management effort at reducing costs. Had to do it myself in the old days when I was not allowed to hire for open positions. The reason for the high OT is not so much to keep the cost of salaries down, but to keep the OVERALL COSTS down once you factor health insurance, unemployment contribution and other expenses!

    You cannot blame the firefighters or COPS for working outrageous overtime hours as long as they were approved by management, since clearly if they were approved there are not enough employees to completely cover the departmental hours.

    I suppose you can assign blame to the high costs of benefits etc etc that limit the ability of management to hire more (budget wise.)

    Clearly, if you are working 700 overtime hours in a given year, something is very wrong - a combination of not enough revenue and "total comp packages" that make it cost prohibitive to fully staff the force.

  25. @vegasfireman: Its not about making your life like mine. Its about reality. When you lose your job you skinny your household budget down, sell a car, get a second job -all to make ends meet. You don't go back to the trough and ask for more, certainly, not for continued life long health benefits virtually for free! Its common sense. And I say this about ALL government unions, teachers, janitors right up through cops and fireman.

    Im not taking away from what all of you do. I'm just saying your asking to continue to live in a world that does not exist anymore and you have to have some common sense.

    BTW, I dont know what the true loaded salary of a cop or fireman here is. I just moved here and kinda like it here and I have no complaints so far. Then again I am in better shape financially than many here, however, regardless of what the true salary is and regardless of how dangerous your respective jobs are - my son is a 19 year old USMC Lance Corporal in Okinawa and in the near future he will be in a position to be shot at every day in Afghanistan - for the princely sum of $19,000 a year.

    Take that to the bank.

    T

  26. Love the posts. See myself paraphrased in several. OK, we need SOME firefighters. Not sure volunteer FF's is a realistic solution--they'd cost us a few million studying it and consulting on how to set it up..... But we do need that negative COLA RETROACTIVE. 50% might be a bit much to hit at one time. Maybe 10-15% this year, another 10% next year and then NO INCREASES for about a decade. Do the same with K-12, ALL city and county employees and we'd have a chance of turning this thing around in our lifetimes. But we MUST get the deadwood out of the LEGISLATURE and REFORM PERS, reform the State spoils system in hiring and promotion, fund and support auditors and prosecution of benefit theft, employee theft of time, illegal theft of UMC services. And we should be able to ENFORCE OUR LAWS without spending increases since we'll cut costs in compensation. Back when, 20% of GDP went to government, all government, city, county, schools, state, federal. Now, government spending is about 50% of GDP. U-N-S-U-S-T-A-I-N-A-B-L-E. Further, if we could IMMEDIATELY initiate all rational reforms, we'd have to pay the piper, pay for the free lunches we've been giving away, so a fluid economy would still be years off--BUT we'd see some results within a year, more results the next year.

  27. Scranton PA put employees on minimum wage until they resolve a financial crisis. CNN just showed a firefighter who's pay was cut by 2/3 down to $7.25 an hour. So this means his regular pay is 3 times that or $21.75 an hour or about $45K a year--he has about 10 years on the job. $45K plus benefits, after 10 years.

  28. Buddy: It was a 66% reduction. No way you could HONESTLY have heard that. Since you CANNOT BE HONEST, there is no point in discussing anything with you.

  29. Buddy 6:25 STILL A LIAR: After admitting (sort of) that 66% does not equal 80% he pretends to do the math suggesting 56 hours a week is normal base pay in Scranton and than $105K is base pay when it's really about $45K.

  30. Exemplifies why public employee contracts should be voided and/or decertify the unions and move on. When their paycheck is in question, none of these public SERVANTS can locate the truth. So why did the commissioners approve the contracts? Why did they allow negotiations to proceed with such lack of integrity? Time to fix this and CUT COMPENSATION.

  31. Look, they can't even respect taxpayers. And I happen to be very good with numbers so I don't accept your trying to obfuscate your pay, your dedication, your knowledge of an industry.

  32. Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman was ahead of his time. Years ago, he was proposing that North Las Vegas to be merged into Las Vegas. Look it up!

  33. The basketball courts are empty, the gym and athletic clubs are vacant, the NLV firemen are going door to door asking citizens to show up and help them retain their huge salaries. Why can't they use those signs the police union used, and put them on every corner. You see, if they have time to walk door to door, they could volunteer that time to the NLV fire dept.

    I find it offensive, these "gentlemen" knocking on the doors of citizens, that are in the middle of 14+% unemployment, the door they just knocked on is attached to a mortgage more than twice the worth of the property, water rates climbing, power bills unbelievable, groceries sky high, and fuel for their vehicle outrageous, "can you attend a meeting to help me keep my job at $140,000 plus per year, all the benefits I am entitled to. Oh, and by the way, John Ocegura, he just retired, sucked you tax payers out of nearly half a million a year while serving in the State Legislature, living in Green Valley, would like your support for a new job". I am sure I would feel the need to support them if they are telling the truth at the door...but, the reality is, that house would be better served, burned to the ground, fire insurance collected instead of allowing the fraud to continue with the government and banks.

    Firemen, stop, take a long look in the mirror, just you, review the thoughts of those you have served, they are not your neighbors, but they pay your salary, they have for years, now they are in trouble and you want to break them. The cuts you have endured, not even a fraction compared to those you serve, and while you make twice the pay than those who taught you..where does it stop. (I remember when Air Traffic Controllers thought they were the pulse.)