Friday, June 25, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Clark County firefighter compensation averages $180,000, once overtime, and benefits such as “remote pay” for those working in Laughlin and the county’s retirement contributions are taken into account. With growing support from the Clark County Commission, the Fire Department is making sweeping changes expected to slice last year’s $15 million overtime budget by $5.5 million.
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- New plan to curtail Clark County firefighter overtime (6-5-2010)
- Staffing shuffle would cut county Fire Department overtime (5-20-2010)
- Las Vegas, Clark County collaborate to limit firefighter overtime (4-27-2010)
- Fire union resists move to increase its ranks, reduce overtime costs (4-16-2010)
- Has fire union support become a campaign curse? (4-15-2010)
- ‘Boot drive’ OT for individual firefighters is unknown (4-4-2010)
- Practice of on-duty firefighters raising money for charity questioned (3-31-2010)
- Fire union goal: Silence Sisolak (3-19-2010)
- Las Vegas firefighters burn up more sick time than other city employees (3-14-2010)
- Clark County firefighters profit from sick leave policy (3-7-2010)
- ‘Longevity pay’ costs millions in county (12-10-2009)
- Firefighters feeling budget backlash (5-28-2009)
- County, fire union break ice with heated words (5-7-2009)
- Firefighters have perks to give back, if they wanted to (4-29-2009)
With Clark County firefighters on notice that they won’t be getting as much overtime pay as they’ve enjoyed in the past, a flood of retirements is expected.
“They’ve reached their maximum salary limits, so retirement is looking more attractive to them than continuing to work without all that extra overtime pay,” Commissioner Steve Sisolak says.
Plenty of would-be rookies are waiting to fill out the ranks, though. The County Fire Department started accepting applications Tuesday for recruits — and reached its limit of 1,000 that day.
The department now has only 23 openings. Sisolak says its leaders are certain that at least 100 employees will leave in the next year, but they expect the final number will be far more than 100 because of changes to overtime pay.
Although the job can be hazardous, it can also be lucrative — even in retirement. County Fire Department retirees are paid up to 75 percent of the average of their three highest years of earnings.
County firefighter compensation averages $180,000, once overtime, benefits such as “remote pay” for those working in Laughlin and the county’s retirement contributions are taken into account. In the past year, Sisolak has forced the county to consider ways to lower that total. Bolstered by growing support from most of the County Commission, the Fire Department is making sweeping changes expected to slice last year’s $15 million overtime budget by $5.5 million.
The department is shuttering heavy rescue and hazardous materials units and letting Las Vegas Fire & Rescue take on those duties through a mutual-aid agreement. The county department also is pulling some fire personnel out of office jobs. The freed-up firefighters are being put into a rotation of substitutes, ready to fill in at straight time for absent firefighters. By doing so, the department no longer has to pay substitutes at the overtime rate.
Another expected change would cut even more into those lucrative overtime payments.
Discussions with Arizona’s Bullhead City Fire Department are focusing on an understanding that would let Clark County pull one firetruck out of service in Laughlin, across the Colorado River. That would free up another 12 firefighters to become part of the substitute rotation. Bullhead City and the county have a mutual-aid agreement. Sisolak, who represents Laughlin, says discussions are to ensure both governments are on board with pulling the truck.
Even if the agreement doesn’t work, state Senate candidate Joe Hardy has said if elected he would reintroduce a bill next year to incorporate Laughlin. That would leave fire staffing responsibilities to the newly incorporated town and move all 45 county fire personnel out of Laughlin and, presumably, into the substitution rotation.
That’s a real change in firefighter paychecks. How that plays into retirement decisions is tied to how retirement works. Firefighters can retire after 20 years with annual payments equal to 50 percent of the average of their three highest years of earnings. They can make another 2.5 percent after 20 years. Retirement pay for firefighters hired after July 1, 1985, is capped at 75 percent; retirement pay for firefighters hired before that date is not capped.
Sisolak says theoretically that means a county firefighter could make as much in retirement as in annual pay. So he expects the overtime changes will lead to an unusually high number of retirements in the next couple of year, which is part of the reason for the current recruitment effort.
Fire Chief Steve Smith says recruiting now “ensures that we have an applicant pool ready to fill those positions quickly to help us contain overtime costs.”
Ryan Beaman, president of the county firefighters union, could not be reached for comment.
Beyond cutting the overtime budget, the county would likely see Fire Department expenses decline because recruits come in at the low end of the pay scale.
Further, Sisolak says, if county negotiators could manage to cut back on benefits and other compensation during contract talks, the county stands to make substantial changes to the Fire Department’s overall budget.
“It’s good news for the county,” he adds.