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October 8, 2015

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City/County Q&A:

Councilman wants private ambulances to have stoplight-changing devices


Courtesy Photo

This Sunrise Hospital ambulance by MedicWest Ambulance is dedicated to providing service to children needing a higher level of care.

The traffic accident a month ago involving a pickup truck and a MedicWest ambulance trying to sneak through an intersection — the patient being transported died later at a hospital — sealed it for City Councilman Bob Beers.

Sealed what?

Beers, who won election to the council this year, said he had asked city staff to draft an ordinance allowing private ambulances working in the city to be equipped with devices that allow drivers to change traffic signals so they can get through intersections on green rather than red lights.

Wait. Private ambulances don’t have those devices, commonly known as Opticom, but the ambulances operated by firefighters do?

Yes. Years ago, Beers said, a decision was made to allow only taxpayer-funded ambulances to have the devices. The fear was that if all ambulances had them, it would cause traffic problems throughout the valley.

“But I think that has been proven over time not to be warranted,” Beers said.

What does Opticom do?

A product of Global Traffic Technologies, Opticom emits a light or infrared signal that changes a traffic light to green, giving the ambulance the right of way at an intersection.

Beers represents the city. What about Clark County government, which represents most of the rest of the county? Do county firefighters also have the traffic-signal changers?

They do. And the private ambulances do not. In an interview last week, Commissioner Steve Sisolak said he planned to ask county staff to draft a similar ordinance allowing private ambulances to be equipped with the devices.

“It’s just a good idea,” Sisolak said. “It will reduce response times and potentially save lives.”

Response times and the safety of firefighters versus private ambulances is becoming a big issue as firefighter unions across the country find themselves fighting harder to keep or earn wages and benefits in the face of the recession.

In fact, shortly after that accident, the head of North Las Vegas’ firefighters union trumpeted taxpayer-funded firefighter ambulances.

Jeff Hurley, North Las Vegas Firefighters Local 1607 president, said it appeared “injuries could have been avoided had the accident occurred in one of our … units.” In a widely released statement, he said budget cuts in North Las Vegas — which appears to have been hit hardest locally by the recession — meant that city's ambulances weren’t available to transport victims.

Two North Las Vegas firefighters who had been in the back of the private ambulance suffered injuries that weren't life-threatening in the accident, too.

Why does Hurley think a firefighter ambulance would do better — because it is equipped with Opticom traffic signal changers?

Well, he doesn’t say that. He says firefighter vehicles are “larger” and designed with “multiple harnesses to handle these types of emergencies.” He also says vehicle maintenance and driver training are controlled “to allow our paramedics to safely continue to treat emergency patients on the return to the hospital.”

What does that mean?

That they can drive safely and work on a patient on the way to the hospital.

Is there a difference in the cost to operate a private ambulance versus the cost to operate fire department ambulances?

Yes. Local private ambulances each operate at an annual cost of about $450,000, said a MedicWest spokesperson. Each Clark County Fire Department ambulance, by comparison, operates at a cost of about $1 million annually.

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Last week's story about the county’s animal control officers prompted reader inquiries about the blind Chihuahua picked up after its elderly owner had died. Two men said they would gladly take care of the animal.

Did one of them get the Chihuahua?

Unfortunately, by the time the story ran the Chihuahua died.

You mean it was euthanized, which is what happens to animals if they are not picked up after a certain period of time?

Yes. A spokesman said the animal was quite ill.

Are other Chihuahuas available for adoption/rescue?

Many. Early last week, Lied Animal Shelter reported it had 66 short-haired Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes available for adoption. Go to to learn more.


A spokeswoman for the The Amazing Johnathan’s Screamont Experiment, a haunted attraction in the Las Vegas Club downtown, says the date of opening and hours printed in the City Council agenda are different than when it will actually be open and operating.

So what are the hours?

It opened to the general public Friday, and the hours will be from 7 p.m. to midnight, not 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. The 35,000-square-foot haunt is temporary; it runs through Halloween, Oct. 31.

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