Residents want to retain existing Mount Charleston fire, rescue services

Mount Charleston residents expressed their fears Thursday to lawmakers about the state's plan to hand off fire-and-rescue duties on the mountain to Clark County.

The state Department of Forestry runs a full-time station and a seasonal one on Mount Charleston, which has about 360 residents and more than 2 million visitors a year.

As part of Gov. Brian Sandoval's plan to deal with the state's budget crunch, the forestry department would pull personnel from stations in Clark, Elko and Eureka counties by July 2012.

Clark County would have to staff the Mount Charleston stations with its own firefighters. That move would bump its costs from the $900,000 per year it now reimburses the state to at least $2.1 million yearly.

State lawmakers on two sub­committees in Carson City discussed the proposal via teleconference with county officials and several residents at the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas.

Mount Charleston native Tom Padden, whose father was the area's first forestry station chief, questioned why the state would force the county to reinvent a wheel that is working well.

"This proposal is asking us to break the wheel we've invented over the decades," Padden said.

The state would save overtime costs at the three counties' fire stations and cut several staffers, including two managers, whose main duties are overseeing these stations, said Leo Drozdoff, director of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Eliminating the jobs would save the state about $539,000 in the first year, Drozdoff said. The changes overall would save $2.3 million over two years.

Assistant County Manager Ed Finger asked that the proposal be halted. State fire crews have done a good job on the mountain for years, he said.

"They do it in a way that is efficient and cost-effective," Finger said.

The county would have to fork out $1.2 million more a year in personnel costs alone, he estimated. That doesn't count the cost of equipment, a new or retrofitted station, and training county crews to handle wildland fires.

A few residents said they worried that the county, which is financially strapped, might not replace the state firefighting crews. A Las Vegas fire station on Elkhorn Road is the closest unit off the mountain.

Becky Grismanauskus, a longtime resident, talked about how her house caught fire in 2007 and was igniting nearby trees. Forestry crews arrived in minutes and snuffed out the blaze before it could spread. "The first response is critical," she said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at or 702-455-4519.