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Emergency calls grow as fire staffing remains flat

A review of Pahrump Valley Fire and Rescue Services service calls, training and community involvement for last year shows the department is facing numerous challenges as the volume of calls continues to grow each year.

Justin Snow, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4068, said though the department is meeting the challenges, staff levels have remained flat.

“Our service requests are getting larger and covering a bigger area but unfortunately, we have not increased staff at all since the mid-2000s,” he said. “In fact, we lost a training officer position and a life safety inspector position which have been frozen since then. Even though they are not in line with firefighter positions, they were obviously firefighters. Much like the chief is available to come out when needed.”

Snow said the department recently submitted a report to Nye County officials detailing outlining areas of accomplishments such as training, staffing and high-profile incidents over the past year.

Additionally, Snow noted the department is required to respond to mutual aid assignments with other area agencies, as per agreement.

On many assignments, Pahrump fire crews must travel extensive miles to reach their destination.

Chief Scott Lewis said the diversity of service calls also appears to be escalating.

“When we address service level increases, geographically, we are covering further on Highway 95 and toward Amargosa to assist our neighbors on structure fires and serious motor vehicle accidents,” he said. “The increases also include EMS, as we are the only paramedic-level service in the area. The nature of our responses are also diversifying, including more technical responses with the sheriff’s office as we prepare to address future service level requirements such as home terrorism.”

Lewis also said when someone is in need of help, it is vital that medics and firefighters always respond, wherever they are.

“It is imperative that we actively assist with mutual aid as there is a moral and ethical aspect whereas someone requires help that the appropriate type and number of resources respond to their emergency,” he said. “We embrace this responsibility because we have the immediate resources, training and expertise to mitigate most emergencies when we need to be involved in the equation.”

At present, the fire department is operating with 27 crew members, 15 volunteers and Chief Lewis.

At least nine firefighters are on duty at any given time.

Snow noted that though the department is doing more with less resources, the morale among crew members has not diminished.

“With a smaller organization like this, the extra hands on big incidents are valuable,” he said. “We are basically doing more with less. Another thing I really want to reiterate is exactly how proud I am of the crew for their hard work. They are amazing to see because at 3 o’clock in the morning, with no sleep, and they haven’t eaten for 10 hours, they still have a smile on their face. It’s just amazing.”

Lewis, meanwhile, said any fire agency’s level of service calls should normally dictate the availability of resources in the community.

Last year the department received two refurbished fire engines, while eliminating two older pieces of apparatus.

A plan to increase staffing several years back did not come to pass.

“As it stands, the guys are doing a wonderful job, but the calls for service keep increasing and it’s tough to keep pace with that unfortunately,” he said. “With that in mind, and with the call volume going up, we are an extremely busy organization and our training requirements are changing to meet those service needs.”

The department’s community involvement was also a topic of discussion.

Last year crews completed fire prevention training in preschool and grade schools, as well as several church groups.

The department also participated in public events, conducted several fire and rescue demonstrations and participated in the newly-opened fireworks launch site at the fairgrounds site.

Among some of the high-profile service calls last year were a commercial fireworks structure fire, a fatal dog attack and a serious medical incident involving a celebrity.

In light of all of the challenges the department is facing, Snow noted the department’s insurance rating improved from a six to a four last February, which can translate to lower insurance premiums for businesses and homeowners.

The Insurance Service Organization (ISO), is an advisory institution providing data for the property and casualty insurance industry.

The Protection Classification Program rating provides a benchmark for insurance companies when determining fire insurance rates.

Snow said the action is impressive when considering the size of the Pahrump community.

“It is my belief that if we were able to increase our staffing, the ISO rating would have increased even more and we could have potentially had an ISO rating one less than the Clark County Fire Department, which is important when you consider how small we are,” he said. “Commercial groups such as light industry and things the town would like to attract, the ISO rating is something that they consider whether they want to do business in a town.”

An additional plus with the improved ISO rating is it benefits area homeowners.

“For you and me, our homeowners’ insurance goes down as a result,” Snow said. “The ISO determines what rates should be, or how they assign their individual premiums for residential, commercial and industrial. Once again, much credit goes to everybody in the department on that one.”

Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at sharris@pvtimes.com

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