Firefighters union, city argue effects of budget cutbacks


Las Vegas' firefighters union has taken a hard stance against the city's budget cuts, alleging that reductions will hurt emergency responses along with the fire insurance rating for homes and businesses.

City officials, meanwhile, said the union is engaging in irresponsible "scare tactics" at a time when the city is facing economic difficulties.

The back-and-forth comes as the city readies for a series of town hall meetings scheduled from January to March to hear resident feedback on what city services are most important.

It also comes as the city is considering back-to-back 8 percent salary rollbacks and freezes for all employees, including firefighters, although a union official declined to comment Monday on the union's positions on these wage proposals.

The Fire Department already has ordered $3 million in cuts that will take effect Friday, and officials say those reductions won't affect first-responder readiness.

Those cuts, though, along with potential future ones, are why the International Association of Firefighters Local 1285 has started its campaign.

"Everything has gone so fast," said union President Dean Fletcher. "That's why we're doing it now -- so that the public will know what's going on, which I don't think they do."

The union has created a Web site as well as a radio advertisement warning that cuts could increase response times, result in fewer people on duty, reduce the city's ability to respond to disasters and hurt the city's fire insurance rating, which is at the highest level.

"With these cuts, we will not be a Class 1 rated department," Fletcher said. "It's all based on your hydrant system, fire engines and firetrucks and your ability to put out fires."

That ability is not being compromised by the pending cuts, Fire Chief Greg Gammon and Mayor Oscar Goodman said Monday.

"They will have no impact on first-responding units," Gammon said. "For the time being ... there will be no impact to the citizens of Las Vegas as far as a fire engine, a fire rescue or a firetruck is concerned when you call 911.

"Those are our primary responding units. There are none that are affected by these reduction measures," he said.

Gammon outlined his plan recently as part of a broader effort to rein in costs as the city's budget runs into the reality of the economic downturn.

For the most part, the cuts involve leaving certain secondary positions vacant for the day if the person normally filling the spot is sick or on leave. For example, the department normally has three battalion chiefs on duty. If one is out, the department will make do with two instead of calling in a replacement.

In a recent e-mail to fire staff, Gammon wrote that should the current cuts not be enough, as many as five fire station units could be cut from operations.

Goodman said those potential cuts are "speculative."

"That's what's going to be discussed between now and March," he said. "If, in fact, there are any changes in the future, the public will definitely be part of the process."

This discussion is just part of the ongoing wrangling over the city's budget, which has seen an ever-widening deficit since the economic downturn began.

The city has already cut operating costs, eliminated vacant positions and announced some layoffs.

City management also has proposed an 8 percent wage rollback in each of the next two budget years to avoid layoffs, a proposal being evaluated by the unions that represent city workers.

Contact Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or at 702-229-6435.

 

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