Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2017

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North Las Vegas Fire Department begins brownouts

North Las Vegas began taking Fire Department vehicles out of service Monday to save on overtime costs, a first for Clark County emergency personnel.

A city spokeswoman said three vehicles were kept out of service Monday using a practice known as brownouts. She added that brownouts will continue on an as-needed basis as the financially strapped city attempts to address its debts to prevent a takeover by the state Taxation Department.

“This was approved by the City Council and the firefighters, and it’s what we needed to do to move forward,” said Juliet Casey, city spokeswoman.

Brownouts were among the numerous contract measures approved by the city and the North Las Vegas firefighters union about two weeks ago. By agreement, the city is “allowed” to implement brownouts from Aug. 1 through Jan. 21.

Brownouts are one way the city is cutting firefighter overtime, which was identified as a consistent problem in an April audit. The audit predicted “an annual deficit of approximately $1.7 million” because of firefighter overtime.

Typically, brownouts call for a fire engine to be pulled out of service for one day, and the firefighters assigned to that vehicle are used to fill in for absent firefighters in other fire stations. Those firefighters, who can number up to five per vehicle, are paid straight time, not overtime, saving the city money.

The Sun first reported the possibility of brownouts being used in Southern Nevada in June 2009, but only in relation to Clark County fire units. Then in December 2009, the Community Priorities Committee, an ad hoc group established by former County Commissioner Rory Reid, brought up brownouts as a way to save money. The county, however, never used that option.

Nationwide, though, brownouts have been employed by communities facing similar budget deficits.

In 2008, Sacramento began using brownouts, resulting in some fire service delays. The Sacramento Bee reported response times increased by about 90 seconds in areas where one vehicle was taken out of service.

Part of the worry with taking vehicles out of service is how it will affect service in neighboring communities.

But Tim Szymanski, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue spokesman, said he doesn’t expect to see much difference. Units from the two fire departments already help each other out because of the automated 911 system that calls for the closest unit available to an emergency.

“We’re not going to see much difference,” said Szymanski, adding that Las Vegas was aware of the coming brownouts in North Las Vegas. “A lot of times we already go into (North Las Vegas) and a lot of times they come into the city.”

Szymanski looked at the calls for service Tuesday morning and said he saw “absolutely no difference,” adding that “if we do see a lot of calls for service (in North Las Vegas), we will re-evaluate.”

Brownouts in North Las Vegas won’t effect unincorporated Clark County as much because the city’s population base doesn’t overlap as much with the county’s, Commissioner Steve Sisolak said. His bigger worry is that the brownouts are more evidence of North Las Vegas’ money problems.

“That’s of great concern to everyone in Southern Nevada,” he said.

Some of the worries expressed this summer when the city’s budget issues became more apparent were that if the city is taken over by the state, surrounding communities would be forced to assume some of the city’s services and expenses.

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