Ad attacks plans to ax units


Clark County's plans to scrap its heavy rescue and hazardous materials team could leave the Strip vulnerable to a terrorist attack, said a full-page ad from the county firefighters union.

The ad, published Monday in the Review-Journal, bashed county plans to eliminate the two units and divert about 40 workers to a relief staff by July 1 to reduce overtime costs.

The union contends that turning over both of these teams' duties to the city would be unwise because the city isn't equipped to handle large-scale emergencies, such as terrorist attacks.

The ad singled out County Commission Chairman Rory Reid. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate has criticized firefighters' compensation in recent months and has pushed for cost-cutting measures in the department.

Union leaders also sent a statement Monday arguing that dismantling the teams could triple emergency response time.

And the Strip's heavy visitor traffic makes it a target for a terrorist attack similar to the attempted bombing of New York's Times Square, they said.

"The Las Vegas Strip includes more than 148,000 hotel rooms and accommodates more than 200,000 visitors," said Ryan Beaman, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1908, in the statement. "The sheer complexity of these magnificent buildings demands a different level of sophistication in responding to these emergencies."

Both the city and county would have to deploy hazardous materials and heavy rescue teams, Beaman added.

But Reid dismissed the union's statements as disingenuous. County staff assured him that response times would be unchanged and public safety would not be compromised, he said.

"They say this is about public safety," Reid said. "The only thing at risk is the firefighters' paychecks."

Reid argued that the city's and county's teams are redundant. The county used the hazardous materials truck, staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a total of 46 times last year, he said.

Reid said he wasn't sure whether the union took aim at him personally because he is running for governor.

Slashing the teams and making other personnel changes in the Fire Department will create a relief staff of several dozen firefighters who can fill in for absent colleagues at regular pay rather than time and a half.

The relief team will shave an estimated $5.5 million from firefighters' overtime costs, which climbed to about $15 million last year.

Beaman has argued that the county should beef up staffing to reduce overtime, its largest personnel cost, rather than pushing for reductions in wages.

This is the second time he has spoken against the county's moves to curb labor costs. In April, he objected to county plans to test applicants to replace 20 engineers scheduled to retire in the coming year, saying the contract only allows testing on odd-numbered years.

In a June 3 memo, County Manager Virginia Valentine said the hazardous materials and heavy rescue teams don't put out fires and seldom go on medical calls, so the stations' engine companies can absorb their calls.

Commissioner Tom Collins, although a staunch union supporter, stood by the county's move to disband the teams.

The sporadic deployment of the hazardous materials truck shows it doesn't need full-time staffing, he said, adding that the firefighters could be better used elsewhere.

He said that the county still will have the equipment and that crews could be dispatched anytime to help with disasters.

Collins disagreed with the union singling out Reid instead of directing the criticisms at the county's administration.

"It was totally out of line to name Rory Reid," Collins said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

 

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