Playing politics: Firefighters show their recession disconnection

Local firefighters and their unions have complained a lot of late that they're increasingly villified by the public, that they're undeserving scapegoats for local government budget woes. If they want to reverse those sentiments, perhaps they should stop setting the public relations fires that burn their reputations.

Last Tuesday, two North Las Vegas firefighters were among five people injured in an ambulance accident at Craig Road and Decatur Boulevard. The 63-year-old patient being transported later died at MountainView Hospital. The firefighters were riding in a Medic West ambulance with company paramedics when they were hit by a pickup, tipping the ambulance on its side.

Medic West is responding alone to less-serious emergencies in the North Las Vegas area because budget cuts have reduced the availability of Fire Department staff and equipment. The city is essentially broke, devastated by steep declines in property values and tax collections, and had to institute "brownouts" because exceptionally well-paid firefighters won't agree to compensation concessions to offset those cutbacks.

The scene of Tuesday's accident had barely been swept up when Jeff Hurley, president of the North Las Vegas Firefighters Local 1607, issued a statement blaming the accident and the woman's death on the budget cuts his union could have prevented. "These cuts are affecting us in more ways than we ever imagined," he said. Mr. Hurley said the department's ambulances are larger, safer and better-equipped.

"I have two firefighters in the back of a private ambulance who were injured because that ambulance was on its side. And they couldn't be on one of our rescues because the budget cuts shut them all down," Mr. Hurley said later in the week, acknowledging that he couldn't be certain a North Las Vegas unit would have prevented injuries in that situation.

Nothing says class like using minor injuries to try to leverage more tax money from a city and a public who can't afford it. And did we mention a woman died in the accident?

Meanwhile, across town last Tuesday, city of Las Vegas firefighters approved a no confidence vote against Chief Mike Myers because Mr. Myers doesn't oppose an efficiency study of the department that could lead to future cost savings. Similar studies have examined other city operations.

The city needs to identify budget savings because the department's costs keep increasing. Firefighters and the city are at an impasse in negotiations for a two-year contract, with firefighters demanding terms that will cost $12.3 million more than the city's current best offer, mostly for pay and benefit increases.

The city has cut many millions of dollars in operating expenses and eliminated hundreds of positions without imposing any sacrifice upon the Fire Department. But firefighters don't want greater efficiency in a time of economic suffering. They want more from your wallet. We wonder how the votes would add up if the public held a no confidence vote on the union.

And firefighters don't understand why they're losing the public's respect and admiration?