Las Vegas Sun

May 22, 2015

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j. patrick coolican:

Firefighters’ newfound health has me feeling a little sick

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

I’m sure I’m not alone in thanking the good Lord that Clark County firefighters have experienced a miraculous wave of good health.

Not long ago, our firehouses were sicker than your average kindergarten class. Sicker than Ferris Bueller.

Bacteria and viruses apparently had their way with rank-and-file firefighters, who averaged 227 hours of sick time two years ago.

Maybe the amateur cooks making firehouse chili were spreading food poisoning. A local Camus could have written a Las Vegas firehouse update of “The Plague.”

Whatever it was, I believe I speak for all of us when I say I was quite concerned about this epidemic of sickness and wondering if they were recovered enough to run into burning buildings to save us.

Now it’s like the Fire Department discovered penicillin or acai berries, as sick hours among Clark County’s bravest declined by 57,000 hours during the past two fiscal years.

A county report obtained by my colleague Joe Schoenmann found that within those 57,000 hours, battalion chiefs’ sick leave fell from an average of 164 hours two years ago to about 16 hours last year, a 90 percent decline.

For rank-and-file firefighters, the average hours of sick leave fell from 227 hours two years ago to 136 hours last year, a 40 percent drop.

(In firefighters’ world of 24-hour shifts, 227 hours is only a little more than nine shifts, so, you know, no big deal. To me and you, that’s five and a half work weeks. New mothers often take less time off to have their babies.)

Of course, something tells me the newly found good health wasn’t penicillin or acai berries or time in the gym (they always managed plenty of time in the gym when they were racking up sick leave anyway).

No, adult supervision is what cured them.

Firefighters had been planning their “sick time” ahead of time, to enable their colleagues to load up on overtime. Hey, I’ll be sick tomorrow and the day after, and then you be sick the day after that. It was a beautiful system, a lottery ticket with hundreds of winners.

The taxpayers were the losers, as were the disabled and mentally ill and other people the county could have helped with money wasted on our sick firefighters.

Excuse me, I’m feeling a little ill.

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