Nev. firefighters' ads blast heavy rescue, hazmat cuts

The Clark County firefighters union posted a YouTube video that shows a heavy-rescue supervisor expressing concerns

By Scott Wyland
The Las Vegas Review-Journal

LAS VEGAS — Clark County firefighters have broadcast their second message criticizing plans to disband heavy rescue and hazardous materials teams, saying it would imperil accident victims trapped in cars, swift water or high-rise buildings.

The county firefighters union posted a YouTube video that shows a heavy-rescue supervisor expressing concerns during an interview about the pending demise of his team.

Last week, the union bought a full-page Review-Journal ad that described how scrapping these teams and turning over their duties to the city would leave the area vulnerable to a catastrophic event such as a terrorist attack.

In this 4½-minute video, Capt. John Steinbeck, who runs a heavy rescue unit, contends that without the county's help, victims trapped in a wrecked car could wait 10 minutes to 15 minutes longer.

"It may be the difference between you living or you walking or you having any quality of life," Steinbeck said.

Both ads singled out Commissioner Rory Reid, the Democratic candidate for governor. In recent months, Reid has criticized firefighters' compensation and called for cost-cutting measures within the department.

He couldn't be reached for comment on Tuesday.

In April, Reid and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman announced a joint effort to consolidate some fire services. After July 1, the city will cover calls for the county that involve heavy rescue and hazardous materials.

County leaders hope it will decrease overtime costs.

Slashing these teams and making other personnel changes will create a relief staff of several dozen firefighters who can fill in for absent co-workers at regular pay rather than time and a half.

The relief team will shave an estimated $5.5 million from firefighters' overtime, which climbed to about $15 million last year.

In an e-mail, Ryan Beaman, head of the firefighters union, said the decision to dismantle the two teams was made without consulting the experts.

"The fire chief is not the expert," Beaman wrote. "I have been in this field for 14 years and I am not the expert."

Beaman questioned how response times wouldn't be affected. A city crew might have to drive 12 miles to the Strip, compared with a county team stationed a few miles away, he argued.

Steinbeck said the heavy rescue unit responds to more than 900 calls a year for dire situations that the regular crews can't handle.

Department spokesman Scott Allison said fire engine crews and paramedics are equipped with metal-cutting equipment. In most cases, they can extract victims from cars without the aid of heavy rescue, he said.

But he acknowledged that certain emergencies require heavy rescue, such as rescuing someone from a flipped-over car or a collapsed building.

The ads appeared to annoy Commissioner Tom Collins, who said the union should concentrate on negotiating their labor contract instead of acting antagonistic.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak agreed that union leaders should focus on bargaining, but added they need to make concessions.

He said the fire chief assured him that eliminating the two teams wouldn't slow response times or endanger residents.

"I have faith that the chief would not jeopardize public safety," he said.

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