Call for Las Vegas Fire Department study rankles union

A proposal to study everything from overtime costs to staffing levels in the Las Vegas Fire Department has city firefighters red hot.

On Thursday Dean Fletcher, president of the firefighters’ union, called the proposed study a waste of money and accused City Manager Betsy Fretwell of using it as a threat to force pay and benefit concessions in an upcoming labor contract.

"I can take it no other way than a threat," Fletcher said. "They want to know how to cut staff and cut resources and save money."

The proposal, which the City Council is scheduled to consider Wednesday, is for a study to scrutinize response times, time spent on scenes and the significance of maintaining insurance accreditation ratings.

It would be conducted by the International City/County Management Association Center for Public Safety Management, an offshoot of a local government management trade association.

It comes as the city and International Association of Firefighters Local 1285 are at an impasse in talks for 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.

Fletcher said the timing of the study proposal, days after city officials declared an impasse in negotiations, shows management is looking for labor contract leverage.

"This is a negotiation tactic plain and clear," he said. "It is a waste of money."

When the Review-Journal asked city representatives for a response from Fretwell, they responded with a statement from Karen Coyne, the city’s chief public safety officer.

"The city of Las Vegas has reviewed efficiencies and how it does business across all departments and employee groups," the statement read in part. "By having a strong analysis of how we operate we can avoid the financial hardships so common among public safety agencies around the nation right now. The price of the proposed study represents a small percentage of the cost of delivering fire service to the community."

A city study of employee pay released in 2010 showed the average Las Vegas firefighter makes $68,609 annually, which was about 7 percent higher than the average rate for comparable cities in California, Washington, Texas, Oregon and Colorado.

The same study showed trainees made an average of $43,115, about 12 percent above average; firefighter paramedics earned an average of $83,086, about 4 percent above average; and deputy fire marshals averaged $110,166, which was in line with other departments surveyed.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@ or 702-229-6435.

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