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April 18, 2014

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City officials, union at odds over effects of cuts to North Las Vegas Fire Department

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Sam Morris

North Las Vegas city manager Timothy Hacker answers a question during a meeting with the Las Vegas Sun editorial board Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

On July 1, the North Las Vegas Fire Department will face devastation and decimation. Or not.

It all depends on who is talking.

Sunday is the first day the city of North Las Vegas will impose its budget cuts on the fire department as part of the city's effort to close a budget gap surpassing $30 million. City Manager Tim Hacker considers it a retooling of the department; the moves, he said, will make the department more cost efficient, yet just as effective.

North Las Vegas Firefighters Association President Jeff Hurley thinks it will be catastrophic.

“I don’t see a best-case scenario,” Hurley said. “I don’t see a positive out of this. The cuts are getting so large. These cuts are getting down so low it’s not even safe for firefighters.”

While the impact is uncertain, the cuts are known. One of the biggest to the department, slashing the budget for most overtime pay, is designed to save $2.1 million. It's based on a recommendation from Fire Chief Al Gillespie, who could not be reached for comment.

Some of the department's response vehicles and even entire stations also would be subject to temporary closing if a daily staffing level of 36 or more firefighters can’t be maintained.

Hacker said the plans called for up to six vehicles to be taken out of commission first, beginning with the one with the lowest call volume. Then, Station 54 on Camino Al Norte, followed by Station 50 on Martin Luther King Boulevard, and, as a last resort, Station 56 near the Aliante Station resort would be subjected to temporary closing, depending on available staffing.

Hacker said the "brownout" station closures would only happen in a worst-case scenario. With 151 firefighting employees, or about 50 per shift, he said there should be a minimum of 40 at work on a given day after vacations and sick leaves are taken into account. Also, various employees are trained to handle multiple positions, which provides some staffing flexibility to avoid overtime.

“When you look at it, over 15 individuals, or nearly a quarter of a daily workforce, would not show up" for the closures to be triggered, Hacker said. "We haven’t experienced that.”

Hurley, however, disagrees.

He likened the fire department to a ghost town. Hurley said the department lost 32 people last year, and the city has not hired new firefighters in four years. As a result, the department is short-staffed 10 or 11 employees each day from vacant positions. Add in vacation and sick days, and he believes the staff could run as low as 24 employees on a given day. In comparison, it takes a crew of 25 to battle a house fire, he said.

Those staffing levels would ensure stations and vehicles would be shut down for the day. If that happens, Hurley said even if another department is only a few minutes away, the results could be devastating in a fire.

“Fire doubles in size every minute,” Hurley said. “If it takes two or three minutes longer, imagine what that would do to a house. … No pun intended, but we’re playing with fire.”

Hurley said there was low morale among North Las Vegas firefighters.

“We’ve got more leaving. Every municipality is hiring firefighters,” Hurley said. “What’s going to happen in the next 60 days is devastating. It takes a good year to train firefighters, and we won’t be able to get (already-trained firefighters) to transfer because the city is so unstable.”

Yet what Hurley sees as inevitable, Hacker sees as an unlikely, exaggerated scenario.

Hacker said other municipalities are not as interested in pulling from the North Las Vegas Fire Department now that there won’t be any layoffs of firefighters. In addition, he said the city would begin to put together a list of firefighter candidates to fill positions if employees leave.

“We are at a level of service that we hope to improve upon,” Hacker said. “Folks that are out there fear mongering, I can’t even get into that mindset. I can’t understand the benefit to create that kind of fear in employees and citizens.”

Still, as the start of the budget cuts loom, both believe their versions of the future to be the right one. It could be disaster, it could be life as usual or a mixture of both.

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  1. This is the effect from a variety of bad decisions by the city officials and the economic crisis that has caused chaos for many lives.

    How many of those that caused this Depression are in jail or suffering?

    Everyone take a look and see what austerity costs, and this is just one part of it.

  2. Cut down the grocery shopping of the entire fire engine crew. Why can't one FF do the shopping instead of the entire fire station? During this hard times, these uniformed FF shopping during work hours stick like sore thumbs and it does not look good in the eyes of the taxpayers.

  3. The long term fallout of city planning by Mike Montandon, spending and borrowing on predicted future income. Spend but don't tax, the GOP formula for winning elections has come to roost, but hese are not good days to be walking under roosts.

  4. I say send them all BACK to First Grade to learn basic math. Then there's another thought that comes to mind: You cannot tell me somebody, maybe SEVERAL somebodies, do not have their hands in the till up to the armpit. This epidemic of deficits is mind-blowing to say the very least. Time for a state-wide audit of the books and we'll see what falls out of the tree when it's shaken hard enough.

  5. North Las Vegas officials have mismanaged their money, and now the citizens will pay the price. The reduction in service will force surrounding fire departments to respond into North Las Vegas, leaving large holes in their respective jurisdiction. The City of Las Vegas will soon be conducting a study on "automatic aid." I'm sure when they see that they are doing half the work for North Las Vegas for free, they'll put an end to that. Sorry citizens. Brush up on your first aid, and buy some big garden hoses.

  6. It is always easy to criticize until your house is aflame and you lose everything.

  7. And though I HATE it that the thought came to mind, I would not put is past these 'dedicated - to $$$' might even slow respond just to prove a point, and if that happens, I say all the overpaid firefighters in the city get the ax and the whole thing is assigned to Clark County. For as much as the city government overspent......the Firefighters were the FIRST in line asking for more money, without additional responsibility.......

  8. Mark, don't go there. Only K-12 teachers have used that stupid "logic". Don't teach the kids anything and the stupid taxpayers will give us more and more money cause we'll tell them it's so difficult being a teacher. The firefighters know that what they do is essential and they've been trained how to do it. If none of it worked, why bother?

  9. I would still like to see an analysis of the costs of NLV being folded into Las Vegas, instead of paying for two Government bureaucracies. Yet there still must be a lot of sacred cows in NLV, since no one is willing to study it.

  10. 25 Firefighters Per House Fire? with most NLV homes unde 2000 sq' that is one for every 10'x10' with five left over for the Truck. That is so many firefighters they have to arrive by Bus. Please stop all the Hysteria and give us some factual information. What is the National Standard and what numbers do we need to be safe while keeping our costs under control?