Reno Fire Faces Public Relations Blaze

Washoe County District Judge Lidia Stiglich has issued a preliminary injunction to stop the layoff of 32 Reno Firefighters. While it’s not a final decision, but an effort “to preserve the status quo” until a decision is reached, the Judge wrote because the labor dispute is being heard before the Nevada Employee-Management Relations Board, it is not clear how it will end.

However, Stiglich did write that if the dispute does end in the favor of the firefighters union, the firefighters will “suffer irreparable harm” because simply paying back pay owed to the then firefighters would not be full compensation because of emotional damages, stress and loss of health care. She also ordered the Fire Fighter’s Union to post a $10,000 bond that would go to the city to repay the cost of the firefighter’s salaries if the union loses the case.

The City of Reno issued the following press release:

“While we respect the judge’s decision, we are disappointed that we will be forced to continue to use the City’s limited financial resources on legal services relating to this matter, instead of using those resources to provide services to the community,” City Manager Andrew Clinger says. “We will now focus our efforts on discussing our legal, operational, and financial options with City Council.”

The loss of $11 million in federal funds from FEMA is going to affect the Reno Fire Department. More than 30 firefighters may be laid off effective July 1st.

City leaders said they had planned for this potential loss of funding as they begin a new budgeting cycle.

“We have a plan that minimizes the impact to the citizens of Reno and still supports our council’s priority of safe and livable neighborhoods,” said Clinger.

Clinger said they are looking to see if any positions can be saved. In the meantime, he said the city will do everything it can to help the firefighters who will be impacted.

The timing of the layoffs, which come just five days after a new fire station the opening of a new fire station in Damonte Ranch. The planning for the new station began around 2005.

Reno City Councilman Dwight Dortch continues to speak out against Reno Fire Fighters Association, I.A.F.F, Local 731. He said he’s worried about the city being able to move forward, due to “the unsustainability of these contracts.”

Dortch said the union should be making concessions to save jobs, but is instead asking for raises.

“They’ve come back and now they’ve asked for an eight-percent raise,” Dortch explained. “So they’ve come to the table, instead of going in the other direction saying, ‘hey, we want to save firefighters,’ they’ve come back to us and said, ‘no, I want an eight-percent raise,’ which is going to cost us another 15 firefighters.”

The Reno Fire Fighters Association responded to Dortch’s remarks by calling for a “…change at the Reno City Council.”

“In bad faith, Dortch selectively took numbers and percentages out of context from an ongoing negotiations process in an attempt to place blame on firefighters for layoffs and for the City’s financial position,” the association’s statement reads.

Meanwhile, City officials hope to negotiate alterations to a policy where Reno firefighters can work with a blood alcohol content level of .08, and can be under the influence of marijuana, amphetamines and cocaine.

Clinger said the change is a high priority.

“Myself and anybody else who looks at it will say this is crazy, we should have a zero tolerance and we don’t disagree. It is something that we have to negotiate with the unions at this point, unfortunately.”

Clinger said it is too early to know if fire officials and union representatives will cooperate with the potential changes. Regardless, the city manager does not want the public to think firefighters are working drunk and high just because the policy exists.
“We train our employees to recognize the signs of impairment, and they are empowered to see someone that is impaired and act on that,” said Clinger.

The policy was negotiated between fire unions and the city in 2002.

“Obviously, we want to be reasonable with our employees,” said Clinger. “At the same time to have any sort of tolerance for alcohol and drugs, in my opinion, doesn’t make any sense.”

Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez says, “If a co-worker or a front line supervisor suspects that one of his employees or one of his team members may be under the influence, he picks up the phone, he initiates the process, we get that person tested and it’s either positive or negative.”

In his four and a half years as chief of Reno Fire, Hernandez said he has only utilized the policy three times. He also says if an employee is in violation of the policy, they want it reported.

And if that wasn’t enough, a new policy within the RFD could be risking lives. The new policy in question has created new criteria for whether or not Reno Fire personnel will assist REMSA or other agencies with lifting patients.

It all relates to a man found to be in medical distress in Lemmon Valley on June 17th.

A Reno Police Department incident report laid out how police had to ask a local business for help, while the fire department reused to assist. The report says officers asked a n hardware store if they had a forklift that could help, but unfortunately it wasn’t available.

It began just before four in the afternoon when RPD officers were investigating a suspicious vehicle. They found a man found in a boat attached to a nearby truck, was unable to move because of severe back pain.

When REMSA arrived it was decided because the boat’s edge was more than six feet off the ground, it was too dangerous to try and move the 6-foot tall 300-pound patient from the vessel to the ambulance without additional manpower. That additional manpower was asked for from the Reno Fire Department.

RPD also called RFD for help and nearly 30 minutes later RFD still wasn’t on scene. That’s because RFD cancelled their response, requesting REMSA’s bariatric to unit respond.

Police waited for RFD and when no one showed up, officers once again reached out to the department. Nearly 45-minutes from the initial call, a Reno Fire Battalion Chief showed up to assess the situation.

He decided his crews were not going to help and told officers that the department would not call any other fire departments to help either. So after more than an hour-and-a-half after the RPD arrived on scene and called for assistance, the patient was moved into the ambulance by REMSA and police officers.

REMSA said the Reno Fire Battalion Chief was also taking pictures of the incident because he thought it was “funny” to see police officers trying to move the man.

City officials said it is not acceptable.

“Our response to that was totally unacceptable and we’ve taken immediate action to correct that,” said Clinger. “In fact, Chief Hernandez sent out a memo last week to correct that we’ve already had meetings with REMSA, and we have another meeting with REMSA to make sure we have a clear understanding and they have a clear understanding of the protocol we’re going to use to respond. It depends on the medical need of the patient and what kind of condition the patient is in.”

Hernandez said the Lemmon Valley incident is under investigation. He also said the new lift-assist criteria were sent out in a memorandum about 45 days ago to all dispatchers in the area and directly to REMSA officials.

The patient was ultimately diagnosed with severe pulmonary edema, where fluids fill the lungs. He remained in the hospital five days after the incident.

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