Thursday, May 17, 2012

It May Be Serious

With the current fiscal and political situation, fire departments across the country are facing unprecedented financial woes. As the majority of cost in running a paid fire department is personnel related, when severe budget cuts must be made, layoffs or compensation cuts are really the only solution.

Sometimes, budget cuts are threatened as a bargaining tool during contract negotiations. Other times, it may be a priority issue, with a politician wanting to put money somewhere else. As the so-called economic recovery is occurring far too slowly in many cases, often there just isn't enough money.

I had heard that the greater Las Vegas area was experiencing a fiscal crisis. The boom time of the nineties had passed, tourism and growth had given way to reduced revenues and foreclosures. I didn't know how serious things were up there until I had a conversation with someone I know, a chief officer with a department in our county.

He mentioned that he had just spoken with a friend who was a fire officer with the city of North Las Vegas, NV. He also mentioned that his friend was sniffing around looking for departments who might be hiring firefighters in the near future. It appears that the city council in North Las Vegas had just approved a budget cutting the city budget by $33 million dollars, with $11.5 million coming out of the public safety piece of the pie.

Apparently, over 50 positions in the fire department are on the block, with most of them being in the operations division. Yikes. As they have around 200 positions, that equates to around 25% pf their staffing.

As in most times of fiscal crisis, the city and the firefighter's union are at odds, with each side blaming the other for the current situation. The current political climate makes public employees a convenient target for the city in affixing blame, while the union has little trust in what the city is saying and doing. The reality is somewhere in the middle, who really knows.

The city is looking for further compensation concessions, the union wants guarantees that concessions will save jobs. Right now, neither is willing to budge. The union feels that it has given up enough and the city says it can't make any guarantees.

Apparently, they have until the first of June to work it out. If neither side blinks, we will find out exactly what the city of North Las Vegas is willing to do and we will also find out how strong the union's resolve is in addressing the situation.

Having been involved in union leadership, I can fully understand the union's mistrust in city administration. Hearing one thing and seeing another is a way of life in many city/labor relationships. North Las Vegas appears to be no different.

That an officer is sniffing around, looking for places where his guys can find jobs is alarming to me. It tells me that the situation may indeed be serious.

Thanks for reading,


  1. If your city government is anything like the rest of the county, you should never trust it. The government has its own agenda, and that agenda does not always provide for real benefits to the populace.

    One thing that would help the fire department is some press. The general public (like me, for instance) has very little idea about what a firefighter does for a living. For instance, how many fires did you put out this week, and what would have likely happened if you hadn't? Do firefighters have to pass physical qualifications every year or so? What does the test look like? I know, for instance, that in Sylvania Township, Ohio the firefighters have to pass a physical test that I would never be able to pass - never in my own life, that is. That test is tough!

    Your fire department might point out the truth, that your town can do without a lot of city services, but the one thing that will put an end to the town is fire.

    While it is true that funding is finite and money is very tight right now, parks and recreation can easily get along on less, as can city administration. Firefighters cannot, or at least should not.

  2. Cap,

    Even worse here in Michigan. Our numbers and our compensation are under assault every day. So far the state government has concentrated on busting the teacher's union, but we are next on their agenda. My Dept was the first in our area to get hit (down 30%), it's starting to hit all around us now. We are seeing depts losing up to 50% of their manpower, combined with others, or pushed into the PSO model. One suburb is staffing 1 FF a day per shift, with no callbacks or OT, after laying off almost everyone when they refused to crosstrain to PSO. The state is basically encouraging local governments to bust their police and fire unions.

    I believe we are seeing a major change in the future of the fire service, with a shift to consolidation, lower wages and benefits, and minimal manpower. I have 4 years left, and hope I can escape before the bottom falls out completely.

  3. Mad Jack - My agency has been very lucky so far, with mainly admin/support positions being eliminated. It has been my experience that we can function ok in this fashion for a few years, then the wheels start coming off of the train. The last time we did this, it took about four years before things started going south and the support staff was brought back.

    As the Las Vegas are was a boom town of sorts during the last decade, they have been hit hard. Thankfully, us not so hard.

    Anon - I agree with you, we have seen the pinnacle of the fire service in this country. I wrote about it last year, I believe the focus will shift to containing the fire to the structure of origin not the room or object of origin. We will expect less and therefore pay less. It ain't right but thats what I see comin'. I hope I'm wrong.

    Thanks for the comments.