County Fire Department's technical rescue unit could be restarted in Laughlin


A specialized fire rescue unit could be restored in Laughlin after a two-year hiatus if Clark County commissioners approve a settlement agreement with the fire union Tuesday.

That means a quicker response time for swift-water and boat rescues, among others, rather than waiting 20 minutes for responders from Bullhead City, Ariz., to cross the bridge and launch a boat in an emergency.

In return, the union is withdrawing grievances and cases filed with the Local Government Employee-Management Relations Board contesting the county's changes to hazmat operations and Laughlin technical rescue operations and staffing.

The technical rescue unit went out of service in 2010 when then-County Manager Virginia Valentine regionalized both the technical rescue and hazardous material units to save on overtime costs.

And it did, to the tune of $4.5 million countywide. Another $3 million was saved in the town's fund from positions that were eliminated. The workers filling those positions were moved elsewhere.

At the time, firefighters criticized the shutdown, saying the decision to get rid of heavy rescue and hazmat puts everyone's safety at risk. County officials contend there was no impact to public safety because other agencies could handle calls.

They said reinstating the unit would have a minimal cost impact outside of training firefighters with refresher courses and certificates for technical rescue, if the agreement is approved. Existing employees will fill the positions.

Ryan Beaman, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1908, said the cuts slowed down response times for Bullhead City responders who have cross the bridge to launch their boats into the Colorado River because water levels on the Arizona side are too low.

"There definitely have been delayed responses," Beaman said. "This is a positive."

That delay was exhibited shortly after the Laughlin service was taken out when a woman and her boyfriend went cliff jumping. He jumped. She was too afraid and was stuck on the cliff until Bullhead rescuers arrived, Beaman said.

Now, county officials want to bring the unit back to the casino town of 7,300 people about 100 miles south of Las Vegas.

"When you call 911, it's an extra service," Beaman said. "It's going to be a lot quicker response time."

The agreement reinstates Laughlin remote pay for two employees, who according to the contract earn an extra $334 per pay period, and mandates that the county and the union pay their own legal expenses.

Assistant County Manager Ed Finger, who helped negotiate for the county, said the agreement benefits the county by keeping the parties from heading to third-party arbitration or further litigation.

Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

 

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