Las Vegas firefighters denounce fire chief

Las Vegas firefighters are turning up the heat on Fire Chief Mike Myers in a dispute over outside consultants hired to evaluate the Fire Department.

On Tuesday, members of International Association of Firefighters Local 1285 reported they approved a "no confidence" vote on Myers by a 274-137 tally.

At issue, according to the union, is Myers' lack of opposition to a study by the International City/County Managers Association that city officials say is aimed at improving service and efficiency. Firefighters say the $155,000 study is an attempt to find political cover and justify cuts to important services. The City Council approved the study in June.

In a news release, IAFF Local 1285 President Dean Fletcher criticized ICMA recommendations has made in other communities.

"The ICMA's reason for existence is to make cuts," Fletcher said. "Some of their more controversial suggestions include not sending firefighters into the interior of structure fires to fight a blaze. It saves the municipality money but results in the home being allowed to burn far longer. That's not modern firefighting. ICMA has suggested combining police and fire departments and sending out a pickup truck on 911 calls. They have even suggested cutting 24 hour coverage in your neighborhood fire station."

In an interview Fletcher said the no- confidence vote would serve to counterbalance praise heaped on Myers by city officials, who consider him one of the nation's top fire chiefs.

"Obviously something is wrong," Fletcher said. "The city manager and (Chief Public Safety Officer) Karen Coyne touting him as the best chief, obviously he doesn't even have the support of his own Fire Department."

City Manager Betsy Fretwell defended Myers in a statement after the firefighter vote.

Fretwell called the vote "completely symbolic" and said the study could improve efficiency.

"The study simply will look at ways the department can be more efficient while continuing to provide quality service. Similar reviews have taken place in all city departments and operations," Fretwell wrote.

In an email to fire and rescue workers before the vote, Fretwell voiced support for Myers.

The email detailed improvements to the Fire Department in recent years, including two new fire stations, new rescue units and new advanced equipment such as thermal-imaging cameras.

The email also said the Fire Department has fared better than others during the recession, which has forced cuts to city government.

"You may recall we were forced to lay off more than 200 employees due to the economic downturn; your department saw no layoffs of suppression personnel," Fretwell wrote. "Throughout the recession and up to this point the City has lost a full 18 percent of its employees since 2008. Our budget is nearly 20 percent less than at its height. Even given this difficult road we have been on, we have held public safety as a high priority."

Fretwell also said three of the past four fire chiefs have faced a no-confidence vote from the union. Fletcher said there has only been one previous no confidence, in 2002.

Myers was appointed chief in January 2011.

According to information published when his appointment was announced, Myers joined the department in 1986 and served as a firefighter, paramedic and training officer through 2002, when he was promoted to assistant fire chief, and was interim chief from August 2007 to January 2008.

From 2007 to the present, Myers was deputy fire chief for medical services and communication.

He oversaw the addition of a cardiac arrest treatment that has dramatically increased survival rates, and during his tenure, the number of calls dispatched in less than 90 seconds increased from 56 percent in 2006 to 83 percent in 2008.

In addition to the dispute over the study, the city and the firefighters union are locked in an impasse in discussions over a new, two-year labor contract.

The city's 2013 budget includes $96 million in salaries, wages and benefits for the Fire Department. The firefighters' latest two-year contract offer would cost $12.3 million more than management wants to spend, city officials say.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ or 702-383-0285 .