In the past five years, one fire department in the country has nearly doubled its workforce and opened five new fire stations. The department is looking into building two more stations and with it, hiring more personnel. That department is Las Vegas Fire & Rescue.
Las Vegas is part of what is known as the "Las Vegas Valley" in Clark County of southern Nevada. It is one of the fastest-growing areas in the Untied States and one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. The Valley consists of the city of Las Vegas, city of North Las Vegas, Boulder City, city of Henderson and unincorporated Clark County. Clark County covers approximately 8,000 square miles with a population of approximately 1.7 million people. The city of Las Vegas covers 131 square miles with approximately 576,000 people. The city is located in the center of Clark County. It is estimated that approximately 5,000 people move to the Las Vegas Valley each month. Its climate averages temperatures in the low 100s during the summer and 60s in the winter with skies clear 96% of the time and less than four inches of rainfall each year.
The city of Las Vegas was founded in 1905 in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Because of its natural springs, it was an ideal location for a stop along a new railroad that linked Los Angeles with Salt Lake City. In 1906, the Las Vegas Volunteer Fire Department was founded and on Aug. 1, 1942, the Las Vegas Fire Department became a full-time department with 15 personnel and four pieces of equipment working out of one fire station. Today, the department consists of 648 employees with 64 pieces of equipment working out of 16 fire stations. Clark County, North Las Vegas, Boulder City and Henderson each has its own fire department with full-time personnel.
Since 1990, Las Vegas Fire & Rescue (LVFR) has been an ISO Class 1 fire department and that was reviewed again in 2003. Earlier this year, the department was accredited by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) to become one of only approximately 10 fire departments that have attained both an ISO Class 1 rating and CFAI Accreditation status.
David L. Washington, a 32-year veteran of LVFR, is chief of the department, which is divided into four divisions: Administration, Fire Prevention, Operations and Support, each under the direction of a deputy fire chief. The offices are the Fire Chief's Office and the Office of Public Information & Education. There are three assistant fire chiefs on the department; two are assigned to Operations and one to Administration.
The Fire Chief's Office is responsible for the overall operation of the department. Budget, Chaplain Services and Fire Foundation are also a part of this office. Administration oversees fire training, health and safety, emergency management, payroll, clerical and Community Emergency Response Training (CERT). The deputy fire chief assigned to Fire Prevention is also the fire marshal for the city. There are two deputy fire marshals (holding battalion chief rank) in charge of fire inspections. Fire Protection Engineering is also part of this division, reviewing all plans for new buildings in the city.
Operations, the largest division of the department, is responsible for emergency response including fire suppression, emergency medical services, special operations, technical rescue, fire investigations, bomb squad, homeland security, crisis intervention, health and wellness, and drillmaster. Support is in charge of inventory control, the fire equipment shop, fire alarm office-communications, information technologies, construction projects, maps and cadet services.
Las Vegas operates 16 fire stations in the city. The design of most stations is the same, with the rescue unit and crew housed on one side of the station and fire crews on the other. The middle of the station is a common area consisting of a workout room (with full exercise equipment), kitchen, day room and offices.
A portable station and tent have been purchased by the department so that when a new station is being built, the portable station and tent can house the crew and engine at a temporary location until the new station is built. Five new stations were built from 2001 to 2005 due to a $551 million tax initiative that was passed by city residents in 2000. The initiative funded the new fire stations, purchased new fire apparatus and hired personnel.
Since 2001, all apparatus used by the department has been replaced. Prior to 2001, there were four different makers of apparatus being used by the department; now, all equipment is manufactured by Pierce. There are 19 Pierce Quantum engines. Engine companies have a crew of four, with one being a paramedic. Many have extrication equipment along with advanced life support (ALS) medical equipment onboard.
The department's ladder trucks consist of two 100-foot tiller ladders, two 100-foot tower ladders, one 100-foot rear-mount stick ladder and one 85-foot tower ladder-quint. Other equipment consist of a technical/heavy rescue unit, hazardous materials unit, mobile command unit, air resource/light unit and a new CBRNE unit that is being built.
The department operates 18 ALS paramedic ambulances. The department responds to all medical emergencies in the city with a paramedic engine company (19 units) or 19 paramedic rescue units (18 ambulances and one heavy rescue). There is one EMS supervisor on duty each shift to oversee EMS operations and issues. During a medical emergency or disaster in the city, LVFR is in charge of the incident. The department has one heavy rescue unit within the department with a crew of four. Assigned to Fire Station 44, the entire station is trained in heavy rescue and will respond (one engine, one rescue, one heavy rescue) together to an incident.
LVFR's fleet also includes one hazardous materials unit assigned to Fire Station 3. The entire station consists of trained hazmat technicians and they will respond together as a unit to an incident (two engines, one ladder truck, one rescue and the hazmat unit).
Fire Investigations & Bomb Squad
LVFRescue operates the only FBI-certified public safety bomb squad in southern Nevada. In addition, the unit is the fire investigation unit for the department. All members of the unit are certified bomb squad technicians, arson investigators and Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified police officers in the state of Nevada. Equipped with the latest equipment available, the unit is made up of members of the department who had a minimum of five years of experience as firefighters with LVFR before being assigned to the unit. All members attend various fire investigation classes as well as bomb technician classes.
The unit responds to fire investigation incidents within the city of Las Vegas and to bomb incidents across southern Nevada, part of eastern California and northwest Arizona. Members of the unit investigate fires, collect evidence, prepare cases for the district attorney and make presentations in court as needed. They make their own arrests and conduct investigations. The unit has a close relationship with the Las Vegas office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Nellis Air Force Base EOD unit and works with both agencies on a regular basis.
The department operates a Fire Equipment Shop, which includes a vehicle shop for department vehicles, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) shop, small equipment shop and hydrant maintenance unit. In addition to a large shop facility, it has several vehicles. One of the newest vehicles is a mobile shop unit equipped with various tools and equipment, so department mechanics can make repairs on the road. It is built on a GMC chassis, with a Caterpillar engine, Allison transmission, 26-foot box generator and roof air conditioning system for the rear box/work area. It has a pass-through walkway, rear-view camera and workstation. With the inclusion of drawer cabinets, a jump-start unit, air compressor, antifreeze container with pump and miscellaneous mounted items, the unit is like taking the shop to the vehicle that needs assistance.
Communications for the department is handled from the Fire Alarm Office (FAO), located at headquarters. The FAO dispatches calls for LVFR, the Clark County Fire Department and the North Las Vegas Fire Department. All three agencies contribute to the budget and operation of the FAO. All employees who work in the FAO are employees of LVFR.
The FAO handles fire and EMS calls for approximately 8,000 square miles of southern Nevada. All 911 calls are received at the communications center of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which is the Public Safety Answering Point for Clark County. If the 911 call is fire or medical related, it is transferred electronically to the FAO. In 2005, the FAO answered 305,616 emergency calls and dispatched units to 237,999 incidents in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Clark County.
When the FAO receives a call, the caller's location and telephone number are identified through the enhanced 911 system. At the same time, the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system selects the closest fire and EMS units to the caller's location. The Las Vegas Valley operates on an "automatic aid" agreement, meaning there are no boundaries between departments. The computer will assign the closest units to the incident regardless of which municipality the incident is located, or which department is available for the call.
The dispatcher inputs information into the computer from the caller. Once the computer has enough information to make assignments according to a pre-assigned protocol (such as three engines, one ladder truck, one rescue and one battalion chief for a house fire), it automatically sends out the call. Calls are received by computers in the fire stations and on Panasonic Toughbook mobile computers in the apparatus. The mobile units are equipped with aerial photographs of the Valley, maps with locations of hydrants, pre-plans to buildings, and they have GPS capability and messaging service.
Communications are handled on the 800-MHz system. In addition to apparatus radios, each member of each company and each staff member is assigned a portable radio. All departments in the Valley are on the same radio system, as are all hospitals, both private ambulance services and airports. This gives all fire and EMS personnel in the Valley the ability to communicate with each other or between facilities and agencies.
To ensure that all emergency agencies in the Las Vegas Valley reach incident scenes quickly, a mapping department located at LVFR headquarters makes all maps for all emergency agencies in the Valley. This makes it possible for all emergency responders â€” police, fire or EMS â€” to have the same map books. The map books are also uploaded into the CAD system so the mobile computers also have the latest maps loaded into them (automatically each time a unit is in station).
Ever since the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino fire in 1980 on the Las Vegas Strip, fire codes have improved all across the country, but especially in the Las Vegas Valley. There has not been a fire fatality in a Las Vegas high-rise hotel since the MGM fire because of stringent fire codes adopted by the city of Las Vegas. That includes fire sprinklers, smoke evacuation systems, adequate water supplies and communications systems. The buildings are under close scrutiny by fire inspectors to ensure that life safety systems are always up to code.
One of those buildings is the Stratosphere Tower, located at one end of the Las Vegas Strip. It is the tallest observation tower west of the Mississippi River at 921 feet and has a 13-story pod at the top (its top is 1,149 feet above ground level). The pod consists of meeting rooms, wedding chapels, a restaurant and bar, thrill rides, two levels of observations decks and two floors of a concrete bunker that can house the entire occupant load of the pod in case of an emergency. It is one of the only buildings in the world in which elevators are used as the primary evacuation method from the tower. Working with the fire protection engineers of LVFR, it is also one of the safest buildings in the world.
Public Information & Education
The fire-public information officer (PIO) is in charge of the Office of Public Information & Education, which is responsible for media/public relations, publications, website services, fire and life safety community education, the Hotel/Hospital Employee Lifesafety Program (HELP), bee services, photo/video services, The Fire Channel, PIO Conference and the Citizens Fire Academy/Las Vegas Fire Corps.
The highly successful HELP instructs employees at hotels, casinos and hospitals who are usually first on scene during a fire what to do and how to do it. The Citizens Fire Academy is held once a year from February through May. In the past seven years, 12 academies have been completed. A few attendees have gone on to become firefighters, which is not the main objective of the program. It was designed to teach the average citizen what their local fire department does on a daily basis and what to do in the event of an emergency. The class consists of hands-on fire extinguisher training, CPR and fire safety education. This office also manages the Fire Channel, a private cable channel received by over 50 fire stations in southern Nevada, consisting of training programs and other information on a 24/7 basis.
The department has a fire training center on the city's east side, which is now densely populated. When it was built in the late 1960s, it was located in an area that was complete desert with most of the roads being dirt. Because of the growth in the Valley, a regional fire training center is being considered in an area where it will not impact residents. A full-time staff is assigned to the fire training center under the direction of a training chief (battalion chief rank). There is also a drillmaster (also battalion chief rank) who coordinates on-duty training such as simulations and drills in the field away from the training center.
There is also a separate EMS training staff that keeps all LVFR EMS personnel trained and certified. All new personnel hired by LVFR must be certified EMTs. With practically all personnel being certified at EMT or paramedic level, the EMS training staff is kept extremely busy.
LVFR is fortunate to have a full-time physician and three registered nurses on staff. All personnel are required to have a comprehensive physical performed at the department medical facility once each year, which includes tests, lab work and examinations. The department also maintains a health-and-wellness website with the latest information available to all personnel. In addition, every station is equipped with a complete fitness center so personnel can maintain their health using department equipment.
Emergency management is coordinated through LVFR. The department maintains an Emergency Operation Center for city and department personnel to coordinate activities during special events in the city and during emergencies or disasters. One successful program of Emergency Management is CERT, in which over 800 local residents have been trained on what to do during a major emergency or disaster in the city. The CERT members would help take care of small problems in their neighborhood until professional assistance arrives on the scene.
Fire Explorers is another successful program of the department and is extremely popular in the community. A number of Fire Explorers have become members of the department. The Fire Explorers are also active in assisting at department activities such as graduation ceremonies and open houses. They have proven themselves to be a vital asset to the department.
TIMOTHY R. SZYMANSKI is the fire-public information officer for Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, in charge of the Office of Public Information & Education.