Las Vegas Sun

January 31, 2015

Currently: 64° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

City/County Q&A:

Councilman wants private ambulances to have stoplight-changing devices


Courtesy Photo

This Sunrise Hospital ambulance by MedicWest Ambulance is dedicated to providing service to children needing a higher level of care.

The traffic accident a month ago involving a pickup truck and a MedicWest ambulance trying to sneak through an intersection — the patient being transported died later at a hospital — sealed it for City Councilman Bob Beers.

Sealed what?

Beers, who won election to the council this year, said he had asked city staff to draft an ordinance allowing private ambulances working in the city to be equipped with devices that allow drivers to change traffic signals so they can get through intersections on green rather than red lights.

Wait. Private ambulances don’t have those devices, commonly known as Opticom, but the ambulances operated by firefighters do?

Yes. Years ago, Beers said, a decision was made to allow only taxpayer-funded ambulances to have the devices. The fear was that if all ambulances had them, it would cause traffic problems throughout the valley.

“But I think that has been proven over time not to be warranted,” Beers said.

What does Opticom do?

A product of Global Traffic Technologies, Opticom emits a light or infrared signal that changes a traffic light to green, giving the ambulance the right of way at an intersection.

Beers represents the city. What about Clark County government, which represents most of the rest of the county? Do county firefighters also have the traffic-signal changers?

They do. And the private ambulances do not. In an interview last week, Commissioner Steve Sisolak said he planned to ask county staff to draft a similar ordinance allowing private ambulances to be equipped with the devices.

“It’s just a good idea,” Sisolak said. “It will reduce response times and potentially save lives.”

Response times and the safety of firefighters versus private ambulances is becoming a big issue as firefighter unions across the country find themselves fighting harder to keep or earn wages and benefits in the face of the recession.

In fact, shortly after that accident, the head of North Las Vegas’ firefighters union trumpeted taxpayer-funded firefighter ambulances.

Jeff Hurley, North Las Vegas Firefighters Local 1607 president, said it appeared “injuries could have been avoided had the accident occurred in one of our … units.” In a widely released statement, he said budget cuts in North Las Vegas — which appears to have been hit hardest locally by the recession — meant that city's ambulances weren’t available to transport victims.

Two North Las Vegas firefighters who had been in the back of the private ambulance suffered injuries that weren't life-threatening in the accident, too.

Why does Hurley think a firefighter ambulance would do better — because it is equipped with Opticom traffic signal changers?

Well, he doesn’t say that. He says firefighter vehicles are “larger” and designed with “multiple harnesses to handle these types of emergencies.” He also says vehicle maintenance and driver training are controlled “to allow our paramedics to safely continue to treat emergency patients on the return to the hospital.”

What does that mean?

That they can drive safely and work on a patient on the way to the hospital.

Is there a difference in the cost to operate a private ambulance versus the cost to operate fire department ambulances?

Yes. Local private ambulances each operate at an annual cost of about $450,000, said a MedicWest spokesperson. Each Clark County Fire Department ambulance, by comparison, operates at a cost of about $1 million annually.

* * *

Last week's story about the county’s animal control officers prompted reader inquiries about the blind Chihuahua picked up after its elderly owner had died. Two men said they would gladly take care of the animal.

Did one of them get the Chihuahua?

Unfortunately, by the time the story ran the Chihuahua died.

You mean it was euthanized, which is what happens to animals if they are not picked up after a certain period of time?

Yes. A spokesman said the animal was quite ill.

Are other Chihuahuas available for adoption/rescue?

Many. Early last week, Lied Animal Shelter reported it had 66 short-haired Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes available for adoption. Go to to learn more.


A spokeswoman for the The Amazing Johnathan’s Screamont Experiment, a haunted attraction in the Las Vegas Club downtown, says the date of opening and hours printed in the City Council agenda are different than when it will actually be open and operating.

So what are the hours?

It opened to the general public Friday, and the hours will be from 7 p.m. to midnight, not 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. The 35,000-square-foot haunt is temporary; it runs through Halloween, Oct. 31.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 2 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. Other than Speed of Arrival (Due to the Devices) I see Nothing about the Quality of Care once an Ambulance arrives. How about some enterprising Newspaper do a story on that.

    If Medic West is as Good as the Fire Fighters why do we need a duplication of service at double the cost with expensive Firefighters. As a Consumer that has to Pay Cash out of Pocket ( you do with Insurance also) It's a No Brainer for me which service I want.

  2. These, or similar, devices were used in TX when I lived there.

    It was great! All traffic stopped.
    Firetrucks, and police used them too.