Firehouse® Interview: Las Vegas Fire Chief Mario H. Treviño

Editor-in-Chief Harvey Eisner interviews the fire service veteran who has led Las Vegas Fire & Rescue since 1996.

Mario H. Treviño has been the chief of Las Vegas Fire & Rescue since 1996. He has 28 years of experience in the fire service, having previously served with the Seattle Fire Department, where he rose through the ranks to the level of deputy fire chief. Treviño graduated summa cum laude from Seattle...

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Firehouse: I know you said you have a lot of people who go to the National Fire Academy. Do you always take advantage of that?

Treviño: As much as we can. That's been an area of emphasis for us in the past. Whenever possible, we will send people to the academy.

In fact, we send people to all different kinds of training. I think training is one of those things that will continue to be a priority for us because that's how we can incorporate those thing into our process. I think everybody's always got a great idea out there somewhere and the good thing about the fire service is that ideas are shared openly.

Firehouse: Regarding the hundred-year flood, do you have an emergency operations center here? Is that newly developed?

Treviño: No, actually the EOC (emergency operations center) here has been there for a number of years. There's also an EOC in the county, which is actually a newer development of that county building. The government center hasn't been there for too long. I think it's only about three years old.

Firehouse: Has that helped you? I mean, having that flood, has it helped you to pre-plan other potential operations?

Treviño: Yeah. Actually, activating the EOC for the flood illustrated for us any kind of holes in our planning or in our system, so we were able to go in after the fact and sharpen up our emergency plan and also make additions wherever they were needed because you don't know until you've actually used the system, how well it works. And it worked extremely well that day. But we were able to tweak the EOC even more after the flood.

Firehouse: Most people might not even realize you have a flooding potential and this apparently is common. Is that correct?

Treviño: Right. And I didn't understand that either. What you find is that in desert areas there is a tendency for moisture to run along the surface as opposed to sink into the ground as it does in other areas.

If you saw an aerial view of the Las Vegas area, you'd see what are called "washes" and they're usually like dry river beds, but in the case of heavy rains those become real rivers and it happens rather quickly. In fact, when you see a sign that says flash flood area, people sometimes get in trouble because they don't take that very seriously.

Even though they might be looking at a crystal-clear sunny day, it might be raining in another part of the valley and that rain will run off and become a river miles from the point of origin. That's how people get caught short and unsuspectingly get washed away in floods.

Sadly, two people here in the valley were killed on July 8. That just demonstrates the potential. You wouldn't think that a place like Las Vegas is a place where someone could die in a flood, but it did happen.

Firehouse: I just want to ask you to sum up, if there's anything in the future we didn't cover or anything that you would like to see happen, other than what we discussed.

Treviño: I don't want to focus on it too much here, but we've trained all of our staff with three courses from the fire academy on terrorism preparedness and we're going to be getting our regional terrorism training from the federal government.

That's going to continue to be a big focus for us. Not that we want to make much banter out of it, but sadly that's one of the realities of living when we do. Terrorism is a large concern, especially areas with a tourism-based economy such as we have.

We don't want people to feel as though they're exposed or they're in danger when they travel here, so we're doing everything we can behind the scenes to prepare and we're working with all of the other police, fire and federal agencies to help us to be as prepared as we can be. Now, clearly, I don't think any community can ever be 100% prepared because you really just don't know what the magnitude of the threat can be.

The research that we've done indicates that if a terror strike is of sufficient magnitude such as up to and including even a nuclear device or a mass-chemical or biological attack, it's really hard to prepare a community for the impact of that when you can see not dozens, but maybe hundreds or even thousands of patients and that would overwhelm any system, I think.