(Jim Clark) – The bitter divorce between Reno and Washoe County over their “marriage” contract in which Reno managed fire protection services in Washoe County is almost concluded. Fortunately, the lamentable failure will not affect Incline Village/Crystal Bay. On July 1, the Reno Department will protect only Reno; two other fire districts in the unincorporated area will be merged into one new district controlled by the county.
What caused the break-up? Some say money, others say politicians’ egos and still others say turf warfare. But the root cause of all this very public wrangling were demands by the Reno Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 731.
Local 731 demanded that the city provide four fire fighters on each fire engine. The union asserted that safety considerations require this—that two firemen stay outside a burning building while two enter it and each can help out the other if there are unforeseen dangers. The county (as well as Sparks and Carson City) have three-person crews, a substantial savings when you consider the personnel expense of a fire fighter could run $200,000 per year. Multiply that by the number of fire engines and it becomes a budget breaker. In fact, Reno has actually closed several fire stations in order to reduce costs. Washoe County’s position is that the vast majority of calls are for medical emergencies, not conflagrations, and that four persons per fire engine is featherbedding.
The very public squabble between county commissioners and Reno council members leading up to this divorce has shown the egotistical childishness of our leaders. Meetings would be scheduled and one side simply wouldn’t show up. Officials would threaten not to provide emergency services in unincorporated “islands,” even if there was a city station across the street. Finally, even though the official breakup will not occur until July 1, the Reno Gazette-Journal last Sunday ran a rare front-page editorial condemning all city and county elected officials, saying: “As a community, we cannot stand for this. It’s time for a new generation of leaders to find a regional solution for fire protection.”
Meanwhile, up here in our mountain paradise, members of Incline/Crystal Bay Republican Advocates learned some important lessons last week when North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Mike Brown addressed the group. The chief pointed out that the local district was established under a provision of Nevada law that requires local voter approval before it could ever be disestablished or merged into one of the troubled districts in the Truckee Meadows.
Moreover, our local district responds to emergencies by dispatching a fire engine with a 2-person crew accompanied by an ambulance with a 2-person crew, which insures appropriate staffing for whatever the emergency is, but spreads the cost over 2 different emergency services. This option is not available in the Truckee Meadows because local governments there have handed an ambulance service monopoly contract to the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA), which does not coordinate with fire services agencies (but that’s a story for another time).
By having an independent fire district answerable to an independently elected board, Incline/Crystal Bay has avoided the political posturing, name-calling and ego-motivated actions that have burdened fire protection services in the valley below.
Thank God our community’s founding dads set it up that way.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and has served on the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)