Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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Reno firefighter training includes Mexican cruise

The city of Reno is spending thousands of dollars sending firefighters to emergency medical certification training at out-of-state tourist destinations despite the fact the same training is offered in northern Nevada.

One Reno firefighter, for example, spent a week last month on a cruise of the Mexican Riviera, submitting $1,322 in travel and training expenses to the city for reimbursement.

According to the paperwork he submitted for the expense, the emergency medical technician training sessions occurred while the ship was at sea, allowing the firefighter to "enjoy all of your port days" in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.

The training was offered by the EMS Training Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas.

According to documents obtained by the Reno Gazette-Journal, four firefighters also spent a week in Priest Lake, Idaho, for the same type of training this year. Each was reimbursed $1,200, the city's travel expense cap. Under city policy, firefighters cannot be reimbursed more than that amount for travel.

The training is necessary for the firefighters to maintain their emergency medical technician certifications, a requirement of their job.

Reno Finance Director Robert Chisel said his department will attempt to deny reimbursement for the Mexican Riviera cruise, but the department may have difficulty fighting it because a battalion chief pre-approved the travel.

"At this time, we are reviewing the claim, and we are going to be denying the reimbursement," Chisel said. "It does not meet the city's travel policy for reimbursement."

The expenses came to light as the city is preparing to lay off 35 firefighters because a federal grant application needed to pay for those positions fell through.

Since the start of the fiscal year in July, the city has spent about $60,000 on firefighter training.

Other training expenses include sending two battalion chiefs and two administrative personnel to Tampa, Florida, to learn how to use the computer program Excel for data analysis. Four other firefighters were sent to San Diego for a fire expo.

In 2013, the average Reno firefighter's total compensation was about $122,000, including salary and benefits, according to a Reno Gazette-Journal analysis.

Reno reimburses travel according to per diem and room rates, which differ by city and are set by the federal government. No per diem or room rate is established for international cruise ships, Chisel said.

But he added that the firefighter's contract allows for travel and training reimbursement and does not specify where the training must occur. "We likely may end up having to pay it," Chisel said.

Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said there is little he can do to set limits on where firefighters go for training. "It's in their contract," he said.

Hernandez said most firefighters take the training within 60 miles of Reno. But he said the department would revisit whether a policy can be written limiting where training must occur because the contract doesn't specify it.

"We're going to re-examine that based on discovering this guy went on a cruise," Hernandez said.

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