Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012 | 2 a.m.
It won’t be long before you start hearing angry voices in the Las Vegas City Council chambers again.
A report by an independent consultant looking into the operations of the Las Vegas Fire Department will be released to the public this month or in December, city sources say.
The report, commissioned for $155,000 in June, was blasted as a waste of time and money by Dean Fletcher, head of the city firefighters union. He argues the department is the finest in the land and doesn’t need more study.
City Council members, though, said they want the report to detect possible inefficiencies. After all, though the winds of the economy seem to be picking up, tax collections still are a far cry from what they were four or five years ago. And among the biggest expenses for all local government are the salaries and benefits of firefighters.
One key feature some say the study will look at is whether city firefighters should work shorter shifts, such as 12 hours versus the current 24 hours. Savings behind the shortened shift theoretically would come by way of lower overtime payments.
How is a 12-hour shift for firefighters better or worse than a 24-hour shift?
It’s cheaper to pay overtime to someone if they only have to work 12 hours versus 24 hours. At the same time, however, it would require two firefighters to fill the 24-hour shift currently worked by one firefighter. That means hiring more employees and accruing more costs for training, benefits, salaries and everything else.
Beyond money, some studies suggest 12 hours are preferred because they allow the employee to rest more; working 24 hours can lead to mistakes.
It’s a contentious issue. And the politicking and lobbying behind the scenes has only just begun.
How do you know that?
For starters, two weeks ago, the city issued a press release the likes of which you don’t see too often. It was an announcement that the International City/County Management Association had reached a “milestone”; it had completed a draft data analysis. What had reporters scratching their heads was that little further information about the study was provided.
Instead, the city merely said at the current rate of increase, expenses for the fire department “will be unsustainable in time.”
It went on to say the Fire Department budget has increased 43 percent, from $77 million to $111 million, since 2004 – an annual growth average of 6 percent versus the city’s general fund growth of 3.5 percent.
What about lobbying from the firefighters union?
That’s happening, too.
Thursday, the union emailed the mayor and members of the City Council with a report from the Insurance Services Office dated October 2011 that gave Las Vegas Fire & Rescue high marks.
“This document speaks for itself as to how you have an ISO Class 1 Department,” Fletcher wrote in a message attached to the document.
Has that report played on the minds of council members?
Councilman Bob Beers said it demonstrated to him that “there is no question that ours are among the most capable firemen and women in America.”
The firefighters union supported his bid to become a councilman this year during a special election. That said, he appears to hold empirical data in higher regard than politics in making decisions.
“It will be interesting to see if the (upcoming study) finds way to improve efficiency and effectiveness without sacrificing quality,” Beers said. “I would not support sacrificing LVFR’s quality.”
Part of the controversy included the fact that the Hard Rock asked the county to create street signs that say “Paradise City Road.” The casino paid $1,500 for five of the signs. Paradise Road, where the Hard Rock sits, was never formally or informally renamed Paradise City Road. It was a pure public relations stunt.
The question is, can anyone with $300 get Clark County to create a fictitious street sign? How about, for instance, “Schoenmann Way”?
No. Erik Pappa, Clark County spokesman, said the county “created the signs to support the event and promote tourism at a time when our economy can really use it.”
And that’s that.