Fire chief vows to keep up department’s standards

Pardon the pun, but Mike Myers, the city’s new fire chief, is one dynamic ball of fire.

That became evident when he went on record recently to explain that he’s committed to spending whatever hours a week and devoting whatever energy necessary to make certain that Las Vegas Fire & Rescue maintains the highest possible standards of excellence.

“We will continue to meet our performance goals. That’s my job. That’s my pledge to the city,” Myers promised an audience of homeowners in Sun City Summerlin.

His address, followed by questions that he encouraged from those in attendance, was an effort to let it be known that despite the economic drought, cuts in manpower and a tight budget, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue is dedicated to retaining its rating as one of the most efficient departments of its kind in the country.

Myers, who replaced Greg Gammon as fire chief in January, said he has been spreading his message before similar audiences throughout the city “at least a couple of times a month.” And that basic message is his desire to administer the city’s 510 firefighters “just as you would administer a business.”

“In reality, this is a business,” he said. “We have a budget of $106.8 million for fiscal year 2011. Our budget for next year will be tighter, down $2.5 million to $104.3 million. But even with that reduction, we will continue to meet our responsibility to provide the very best standards of excellence.

“We are one of the few cities that operates its fire department as a business, and we are very serious about constantly achieving excellence.”

So, like any other good businessman, Myers is talking up his product, wants to hear the public’s reaction to his product and is moving around town to explain what he intends to do to make his product even better.

The 44-year-old fire chief, who has spent 24 of those years as a member of Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, didn’t go to Harvard or any other university to obtain a degree in business administration. However, based on his success thus far in keeping a tight fist on costs while improving efficiency, Myers might not need a business degree.

He spoke proudly of his department as he rattled off the kinds of numbers necessary to retain Las Vegas Fire & Rescue’s high standing, as required by the Commission of Fire Accreditation International and the national Insurance Services Office.

“We respond to calls in 5.32 minutes 90 percent of the time,” he said. “Our goal is to work that number down to 5.2 minutes.”

In another vital area, he said, “Home fires are contained to the room of origin 80 percent of the time.”

Last year Las Vegas Fire & Rescue answered 87,412 calls, of which 2,124 were responses to fires. Myers said that more than 80,000 of the calls were for medical emergencies. Firefighters, while trained to perform at the highest levels of proficiency in handling all kinds of combustible matters, also are trained to be highly capable of dealing with just about any kind of emergency medical situation.

On the rescue side, the average hospital survival rate for heart patients who call for help has been 30 percent. But in the first quarter of this year, 48 percent of heart patients brought to hospitals by Las Vegas Fire & Rescue survived to the point of walking out of those hospitals, Myers said.

“These are important standards, and we are one of the few fire departments that relies on performance standards, just as any other business would do,” he added.

Las Vegas Fire & Rescue plans to open station No. 107 in Sun City Summerlin next year, as well as two other new stations, 106 and 108, elsewhere in Las Vegas.

Still, Myers promised to keep a close eye on costs. He said he already has shaved $1.3 million from the budget in preparation for fiscal year 2012, largely by employing overtime for firefighters rather than hiring additional manpower.

“As a business, it’s imperative that we retain our accreditation. That’s what we’re doing, and that’s what we will continue to do,” Myers said emphatically.

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. He is the author of the novels “Falling Dominoes” and “One At A Time.” Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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