Two of the eight fire stations in North Las Vegas were closed Monday because there weren’t enough firefighters on duty to staff them.
"I wouldn’t want to live around a fire station that’s closed," said Jeff Hurley, president of the city’s firefighters union.
He criticized a city budget-cutting policy that is designed to severely limit overtime within the Fire Department. That policy led to short staffing, he said, which led to the closures.
City Manager Tim Hacker said the closures happened because more firefighters than usual called in sick. He stopped short of calling it a "sickout."
"I hope it’s truly an anomaly and we don’t see this going forward," he said. He said city officials would monitor sick leave closely.
Hurley denied that firefighters were calling in sick out of protest. He said five firefighters were out sick Monday, and two of them were on workers’ compensation.
"There is no organized sickout or whatever they’re trying to imply," he said. "I’ll just come out and say it: It’s a lie. It’s a smokescreen."
Hacker insisted that there were enough nearby stations to cover the city without any danger.
Hacker said Station 54, which is on Camino Al Norte, was closed both Sunday and Monday. Station 56, on West Elkhorn Drive, was also closed Monday.
Hacker said Station 56 is the slowest station in town, and 54 is surrounded by other stations.
He said the city had to limit overtime within the Fire Department. He said the department racked up $2.5 million in overtime this fiscal year when it was budgeted for $1.5 million.
The reasons are complicated, he said, but largely because the contracts with the firefighters union call for more personnel than necessary on some equipment and because the contracts say that some workers are not allowed to do other workers’ jobs.
The city and its public safety unions have been battling for months over budget issues. The City Council authorized Hacker to suspend portions of union contracts that call for pay raises and other benefits.
Hacker said that is the only way to avoid laying off police officers and firefighters.
But the unions contend that the move is illegal and unnecessary. They have filed formal grievances seeking to have the action overturned.
Hurley, from the union, said the department is woefully understaffed.
"It’s like a ghost town over here," he said.
He said it was too early to have gathered data showing whether response times were slower than usual Sunday and Monday.
He said there was a multi-vehicle crash Sunday night that required a rescue unit. The city’s did not arrive on time, so a unit from the Clark County Fire Department responded and transported a patient.
A Las Vegas city spokesman said Monday its firefighters responded to a few North Las Vegas emergency calls over the weekend, but it was unclear whether that was a direct result of the temporary closures.
"When you close a station, the other stations have to pick it up. Then they get backed up," Hurley said. "It’s like dominos falling."
Review-Journal reporter Kristi Jourdan contributed to this report. Contact reporter Richard Lake at email@example.com or 702-383-0307.