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City Council to consider $155,000 study of fire operations

Updated Thursday, June 14, 2012 | 4:38 p.m.

A proposal to pay $155,000 to consultants to study how Las Vegas firefighters do their job already is angering the firefighter union.

The City Council will consider a proposal to hire the consultants at its meeting Wednesday.

Trying to get the job, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Safety Management, which is part of the International City/County Management Association, wrote a 24-page proposal detailing what it would examine. Its analysis would look at, among other factors, how much time firefighters spend on calls and at what times of day. It will look at how many fires they respond to, with descriptions of the fire – for instance, was it confined to one property or did it spread?

“By looking at the availability of deployed hours and comparing those to the hours necessary to conduct operations, staffing expansion and/or reductions can be determined,” the proposal says.

Other areas of examination include:

• “The efficiencies of 24-hour staffing … as compared to other alternatives.”

• “Call volume and resource allocation.”

• A “cost/benefit (analysis) and the risk of altering current emergency medical services response and transport."

• A cost/benefit analysis of of maintaining insurance ratings/accreditation.

• A look at integrating 911 EMS communications with police 911 communications.

Karen Coyne, the city’s chief public safety officer, said the study would be helpful as “the cost to provide (fire) service … continues to increase and will be unsustainable in time.

“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,” she added.

To the firefighter union, council approval of the study and eventual results are a “foregone conclusion” and appear to be a strong-arm tactic by city management, which recently declared an impasse with the union over contract negotiations.

Two weeks ago, the city took a bold step by publicly airing the union’s proposals for a two-year-contract. In sum, the city said, the contract would have cost the city $12 million more over two years.

In a released statement, Dean Fletcher, president of the Las Vegas firefighter union, said the proposed study was “a transparent attempt by the city manager’s office to play hardball” with negotiations. The study is an unnecessary expense, he added, because the department has already obtained stellar rankings from two other rating services.

Calling it a “paper-shuffling study,” he also said taxpayers should “consider the source.”

“The … study isn’t about saving lives,” Fletcher added. “It’s about paying $155,000 in taxpayer dollars to an organization that has no credibility in planning for lifesaving.”

City Councilman Bob Coffin, supported by firefighters in a tight election last year, called the city’s firefighters “the hardest working people we’ve got.”

“And when you think about the heat and hauling hoses around, they really deserve their money,” he added.

Nevertheless, Coffin says he doesn't “see the harm” in doing a study to determine whether there are more efficient ways to run operations.

“I’ve never been afraid to study anything that might improve governmental operations,” he added. “There are things we can do, but I don’t know what those are until I hear some options.”

As for the contention that the study’s outcome is a foregone conclusion, Coffin said, “We’re grownups here, and we’ll figure out if something is biased.

“There might be savings here that have nothing to do with cutting someone’s pay,” he added. “I understand firefighters and how it sometimes seems like the world is against them. And that’s just not true.”

While the city is at an impasse with the firefighter union, the county and its firefighter union quickly wrapped up its contract earlier this year. That doesn’t mean, however, the county isn’t looking for savings, too.

County Commissioner Steve Sisolak was at the forefront of a push to look at the abuse of the sick-leave system by firefighters allegedly using sick days as vacation time.

And when the city gets its firefighter report, he added, “I want a copy.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said, adding that he will be especially interested in the analysis of the 24-hour work shift. Potential savings from a shorter shift would come, he added, when people call in sick or can’t work for whatever reason. Instead of substitutes being paid for 24 hours in overtime and possibly call-back pay, they would likely only have to fill in for 10 hours.

“Going to a 10-hour shift or whatever it is, the argument is they won’t be sleeping during a shift, they’ll be working. Sleep on your own time. Grocery shop on your own time,” he said. “We have a lot of county people who work four 10-hour days and they don’t sleep and grocery shop during work. They work. We’d have the same with fire.”

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