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July 7, 2015

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county government:

Sources: Firefighter sick-leave probe will leave 1 jobless, 16 disciplined

Action follows internal investigation; union likely to challenge decision


Sam Morris

A firefighter checks the stability of a roof after an eastern valley apartment fire in this 2010 file photo. Sources said one firefighter will be fired and 16 will face disciplinary action following an investigation into sick-leave policy abuses.

Firefighter sick leave

KSNV report by Sun reporter Joe Schoenmann on pending discipline Clark County firefighters face over alleged abuse of sick leave, May 12, 2011.

Click to enlarge photo

Steve Sisolak

One Clark County firefighter will be fired for abusing sick leave and 16 others will be disciplined.

According to several sources, the disciplinary actions follow an internal investigation by county and Fire Department administrators. Sources did not know the specifics of the discipline faced by the 16 firefighters who won’t be terminated.

County administrators refused to discuss the moves with the Sun, noting such issues are confidential personnel matters.

Union representatives could not be reached.

Sources, however, said more information about the discipline is likely to be made public over the next week. They also said the firing and other disciplinary actions will likely be challenged by the firefighter union.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who a year ago called firefighters the “gold medalists” of gaming the sick-leave system, said Thursday he had not been told of the disciplinary action.

But, he added, it “shows that the county is taking the sick-leave abuse and the fraud perpetrated on the taxpayers seriously. And this should serve as a notice to citizens that we do take these allegations extremely seriously,” he said.

“Those who have been gaming the system, be aware that we’re going to be looking for you,” he said.

Allegations that county firefighters have abused the sick-leave system have been floated for more than a year.

First reported by the Sun, the allegations surfaced in a March 2010 Clark County compensation study that found the average number of shifts taken off for sick leave by roughly 700 firefighters came to almost twice as many as rank-and-file employees and about four times those of management.

Sick-leave abuse was also cited as one reason Fire Department overtime is so high. The union disputed that, saying overtime levels are a consequence of minimum staffing requirements combined with the county’s unwillingness to hire more firefighters.

Yet a fire station like the one at McCarran International Airport is closed to firefighters from other stations because those firefighters have specialized training. Sisolak noted it would be easier for the relatively small group at the airport of figuring out schedules ahead of time to ensure co-workers pick up extra overtime.

In 2009, the average overtime worked by airport firefighters was 859 hours (they work in 24-hour shifts, so that represents about 36 shifts).

Rank-and-file firefighters weren’t the only ones accused of cheating the system. In September, county officials found that sick leave by battalion chiefs fell dramatically after a new policy was implemented months earlier.

The policy worked like this: Normally, three battalion chiefs are on duty at all times. That means if one called in sick, another “batt-chief” had to be called to fill in. The new policy said if a batt-chief calls in sick, the department will operate with just two. During 12 weeks under the new policy compared with the same 12 weeks in 2009, batt-chief sick leave fell 80 percent.

Sisolak said the incentive to call in sick to give each other more overtime had disappeared so they called in less.

The most conclusive judgement on sick leave occurred earlier this year. An independent arbitrator from California wrote that “some employees use sick leave as vacation, scheduling themselves to be ‘sick’ months in advance.”

Moreover, wrote arbitrator Norman Brand, “it appears some firefighters may deliberately call in late to turn the overtime opportunity into a callback/overtime opportunity.”

Sisolak wrote letters to Metro and the FBI after that asking for investigations into sick-leave abuse as potential criminal activity. Sources say those investigations are expected to be wrapped up in the next few weeks.

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  1. All firemilkers should be given polygraph tests if they want to keep their jobs. They should all be required to have those phony license plates on their cars so the public can identify them.

  2. Sisolak said, Sisolak said and shoeman wrote, the same old story.
    Steve Sisolak, Las Vegas Sun Reporter and media hog, part time County Commissioner.

  3. Chunky says:

    He thinks they barely skimmed the surface on this. 17 out of 700? Yeah right!

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  4. What a joke. 1 firing. Complete joke. Complete.

  5. Any bets that Chris G. wants to raise their pay so the CCFD won't feel a need to game the system?

  6. 700 firefighters in the county. 33% gamed the system, 1 being fired and 16 being shown as bad guys. What happened to the other 220?

    This is nothing but a showing for the public to let it die in the back rooms.

  7. Exxon has a $40 billion/year profit and insists on tax breaks to "keep them competitive". Maybe this vacation pay keeps the Fire Boz competitive in the same sense.

    Could be, our 'Public Servants', who eat at the Banquet Table each night, must secretively be Energy Executives in Training.

    Or have the Fire Stations been quietly taken over by Socialists?

    Are we experiencing the need to reward Capitalists through competitiveness, or is this the slippery road to Socialism?

    That is the question.

  8. Firefighters:
    Job = Put out fires, once in a while.
    Other times, sitting on their YKW
    Average Salary = $180,000 a year
    Qualification = HS diploma
    Crime = Stealing money claiming sickness
    Consequence = one fired, 16 disciplined

    Job = Teaching future leaders, 7 hours
    officially, 5 days a week with
    weekends and nights work unpaid
    Qualification = college degree
    Average Salary = $45,000
    Crime = Teaching future leaders and
    failure to make the unmotivated children
    of couldn't care less parents to learn
    Consequence = 3,000 fired

    Job = Run the government
    Qualification = Run your mouth
    Average Salary = Who knows
    Crime = Fiscal mismanagement
    Consequence = More power to stick it to the less


  9. The easiest way to solve this is to put FF on straight salary. They earn more than enough to classed as exempt to begin with.

    At the very least any pension contributions should be based *only* on base pay, not OT.

    FF want to be considered professionals, and many have or get a specialized degree. Fine, treat them as such and take away OT pay in exchange for a fair, pure, salary.

  10. keystone6, as an exempt employee for almost my entire working life I am very much aware of the law regarding this.

    I propose that FF be classed as "exempt". That is a very easy solution to this problem.

    You may not be aware of it, but California law allows for anyone making 2.5 times the minimum wage to be classed as exempt. FF in Clark County easily fall into that category on the base wage. Nevada law spells outs the professions that can be classed as exempt. Well, FF consistently call themselves "professional" and have special degrees to back that up. I say treat them as such and make them exempt.

    Make them exempt, give them a fair salary, and almost every problem we have now is dealt with, including the pensions.

  11. boftx - I like it, I like it a lot. I don't know about the percentage of them that have special degrees, but you're right, they should be salaried.

  12. Today is a a great day! Now, everyone knows only 17 firefighters abused sick time, not the 240 that were being accused. Yes, it is a shame that 17 of them abused sick time, but I am relieved to know that the other 683 firefighters have done nothing wrong. I fell bad for the 683 firefighters whom had their integrity questioned, and their reputation tarnished.

    Will the media work just as hard to vindicate these firefighters, as they did to destroy their reputation? I doubt it!

    The firefighters still have a problem. Although, the fire department shut down several pieces of apparatuses and are using the firefighters to fill in the vacancies; thus, reducing overtime. They still depend on firefighters to work overtime to fill vacancies created by vacation and legitimate sick time use. Although, it would be cheaper to have the firefighters continue to work overtime, the county has to stop it! I am not saying they should shut down anymore essential positions or pieces of apparatus, i.e., hazardous material unit, heavy rescue, truck companies, medical supervisors, paramedic rescues that provide advanced life support, etc. The county needs hire more firefighters to assure none of them will make over six figures. Yes, I know this will cost more money, but we have to make sure they are not allowed to work anymore overtime! We cannot have these "blue-collar workers" making over six figures; I don't care how many hours they work.

  13. One thing that needs to be done is to make pensions based on "base salary only", and averaged over the last 5-10 years. This will eliminate those who pump up their salary in the last year or 2 by having an accomodating supervisor authorize tons of overtime and pay for vacation days instead of time off (vacation?) to add to their final year's pay, thus substantially increasing their pension after retiring. Those doing that are bankrupting the system and the taxpayers are getting tired of having their pockets picked. At the salaries they make it can no longer be considered "public service".

  14. FIRE all fire fighters and re-hire at 1/3rd cost Genuine NYC fire fighters , then move on the cops and all other government and taxpayers of Nevada would save BILLIONS yrly.

  15. Davy,
    They will not hire full time teachers, because the benefits cost too much. It is cheaper to hire part time teachers, or pay teachers overtime. Your union should not allow the county to hire part time teachers. This will force them to pay you benefits you deserve. But, the school district might fire all of the part time teachers, and depend on the full time teachers work overtime.

    Be careful, this could blow up in your face! The school district might fire all of the part time teachers, and depend on the full time teachers to work overtime; not wanting to pay benefits for new employees. Teachers will work sixteen hour days, and teach summer school and some will be making over six figures. Then someone will political clout, will become jealous of your pay. He will find a few teachers who have abused the system, and then "paint all of you with the same brush." His friends who own T.V. stations, newspapers will print negative stories on teachers, and make all of you appear to be abusers of the system. Then after two years of tarnishing your reputation, and destroying your image, the truth will come out. But, it will be too late, the damage has been done. who knows how long it will take to gain the public trust agin.
    Good Luck

  16. DTJ
    Firefighters are collecting money for kids who suffer with neuromuscular disease. The donations helps pay for camps, wheelchairs, and towards research for a cure. Many firefighters donate their time to help with camps every year. You should education yourself on this disease, and have a little respect for what firefighters have been doing for years.

  17. Keystone:

    Please forgive me. I did not intend to put any firefighter down. I am simply doing a compare and contrast. It is not anyone's fault, but it is simply the way things are. It's what I call the luck of the draw. When things are bad, people look for scapegoats. The teachers are it. You are lucky you are not it, even though you got a little singed (pun unintended).