Intimidation no way to improve public’s perception of firefighters

If the phone call hadn’t come from someone I knew personally, I might have doubted a caller who said a city of Las Vegas firefighter came to his home recently and asked him to sign a petition supporting firefighters resisting pay cuts.

But it was someone I knew.

So when he said he saw a firefighter and a Las Vegas Fire Department truck, I believed him.

Now this isn’t something firefighters are supposed to do, according to Tim Szymanski, spokesman for Las Vegas Fire Department . It’s unequivocally against policy.

Dean Fletcher, president of the Las Vegas Firefighters Union, said, “I’m not believing it.” He insisted the union “hasn’t being actively doing it.”

Yet, the firefighters are actively seeking public support so their pay won’t be cut 8 percent, as the city of Las Vegas is asking all employees to accept in order to avoid layoffs.

But it would be totally against policy for a firefighter or paramedic to take a truck and go into a neighborhood and solicit signatures.

If I didn’t know the caller, I might not believe it either.

But I do. And when he says it happened late last week, about 6 p.m. just as it was getting dark, it happened.

When he said he felt intimidated, I believe him.

When he said he saw a fire- truck outside the neighbor’s house on Cottonwood Place in the historic Huntridge neighborhood, I believe him.

Now, possibly this was a rogue firefighter or paramedic doing this on his own.

Possibly the firefighter didn’t realize he was intimidating a homeowner by standing at the front door, implying an ugly message: Sign here or I’ll let your house burn down.

Firefighters generally have great credibility, which makes them and their unions sought- after political supporters. They can deliver.

Remember, it was the door-to-door walking by Clark County firefighters that helped elect Erin Kenny, a union supporter at the time she ran and now one of the county commissioners burdened with a prison record. The firefighters put their credibility on the line for her.

The irony of this incident in the Huntridge neighborhood is that Las Vegas Fire Chief Greg Gammon issued a Feb. 10 memo suggesting firefighters be “mindful of the public perception out there” and warning firefighters to be on their best behavior because the public has a poor impression of city firefighters right now.

(The recent arrest of a Clark County fire captain amid allegations he solicited sex from what he believed was an underage girl is just another black eye for firefighters, although firefighters as a whole can’t be blamed for one person’s behavior.)

But the city chief was right. Firefighters don’t have the heroic reputation they once had. You wouldn’t believe the number of calls I get from irate members of the public complaining about the firefighters at the gym working out, or at Starbucks on a coffee run or doing their grocery shopping with the truck parked in front. Every time, I tell people it is not any kind of violation. Firefighters are allowed to shop in uniform and work out during their shifts, even go to doctor appointments when they’re on the clock. It’s all part of the premise that firefighters need to be healthy so they can save people from fires.

But what this guy did was dumb. To use city equipment to protect his pay from an 8 percent cut shows some firefighters, and one hopes their numbers are small, have the strength to save lives, but lack the sense to discern right from wrong.

My friend, by the way, did not sign the petition.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at


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