March 19, 2008
Whose Moral Obligation?
OVERTON, Nevada (STPNS) -- At the Moapa Valley Town Advisory Board (MVTAB) last week, the top brass from the Clark County Fire Department (CCFD) came out and brought some real ?dollars-and-cents? numbers with them. Though these figures, which showed the revenues and expenditures of the Moapa Valley Fire District, were somewhat lacking in fine detail, they were still numbers that the District has long asked for but not been allowed to see. The presentation was meant to start a conversation about a proposal for a new property tax; a tax that, it was hoped, might pay for a full-time paramedic station in the community.
It quickly became clear however that, at least according to the numbers presented, a full-time station is still a ways off. The MVTAB was told that, in its collection of revenues, the MV Fire District is a completely separate and independent district. In other words, ?don?t expect to get revenue subsidies from the more populous areas of the county; you?re on your own there, and, by the way, your revenues are pretty short.? But that?s not the main problem. Indeed, the MVTAB expressed a willingness to institute additional taxes to raise revenues for additional services. The real trouble comes when it is time to spend those revenues. At that point we aren?t so separate and independent anymore. After all, the CCFD holds the checkbook to the MV Fire District bank account. So when it comes to dishing out funds for manpower, services, equipment and facilities, we are suddenly very much a part of the CCFD. The CCFD hasn?t done anything to establish any special arrangements for rural areas. Thus we are obliged to pay the big city prices if we are to be fully equipped and manned to big city standards. In the face of staggeringly high expenses and a very limited rural tax base, the message seemed to be that we still have some growing to do.
An interesting theme was raised during the presentation, however. It was pointed out by a local volunteer that a large percentage of calls to which the local stations respond are incidents which occur outside of the MV Fire District territory; out on the Mormon Mesa or in the Lake Mead Recreation Area. The obvious question was: why should our meager local tax base have to stand alone and pay for regional emergency medical services? This is a good question that still stands without an adequate answer. But part of the answer that was given included an assertion that, while the District has no legal obligation to respond to calls outside its boundaries, it has, perhaps, a moral obligation to do so.
The idea of this moral obligation reverberated and hung heavily in the air throughout the rest of the conversation. Indeed, this community has long been fulfilling that moral obligation as best it can. Our volunteers are answering calls almost daily which take them far outside of their territory usually leaving the home community without coverage. These incidents cost the District dearly in fuel, equipment and available manpower. Many of these calls are Advanced Life Support (ALS) situations which require experienced paramedics. While the district has trained a few volunteer paramedics in recent years, they are, unfortunately, too few and far between. Much of the time, the volunteer paramedics are simply not available to respond. Even so, the local volunteers are doing all that they can to fulfill this moral obligation of the Fire District.
In the meantime, however, there are about a dozen professional CCFD paramedics residing in the Moapa Valley. On any given day there may be 4-5 of them at home, off duty. To their credit, most of these paramedics would be more than willing to provide support to local volunteers on ALS calls when needed. In fact, for a long time now, MVTAB Chair Judy Metz has been trying to manage just such an arrangement. Unfortunately, the firefighters union will have none of it. The union forbids its members to volunteer in providing services that they are otherwise being paid for; something about volunteering takes away paid union jobs. This is preposterous! Where is the moral obligation of the collective firefighters of Clark County as represented by their union policies and leadership? There are people dying out there; people who desperately need paramedic services. These services exist here in the valley, ready to roll, but, because of this petty labor dispute, they are not allowed to be utilized. It is unconscionable.
As a response to all of this, CCFD official, Russ Cameron (who is also a Logandale resident) expressed a truly innovative, if not entirely new, idea for the CCFD to get around this union juggernaut. It is to create a special arrangement in the rural areas whereby off-duty CCFD paramedics could provide needed back up to the volunteers and be paid a fair rate for those spot services (to make the union happy). An arrangement like this would allow the MV Fire District to draw from a much deeper bench. What?s more, availability to paramedic services could be provided by maximizing already existing resources. We wouldn?t have the overwhelming expense of building a new firehouse, buying a new fully-equipped vehicle and hiring a crew of paramedics at full union wages; all of which we would certainly love to have but are, at least for now, an impossibility.
The idea truly has merit and it has been talked about for quite some time. But, up to now, nothing seems to have been done about it. CCFD Chief Steven Smith told the MVTAB that this idea was something that would have to be brought up to the union leadership in upcoming meetings to see if it would fly. Why in the world hasn?t this been done before now? What are we waiting for? This is, after all, an urgent matter. We reiterate: there are people dying in and around this community; dying for lack of adequate emergency medical care. Local volunteers are running themselves ragged on the front lines of this problem; doing the best they can. Willing and able professional personnel exists untapped right here in the community. Why has the CCFD not done more than to just think about the solution thus far?
The solution is there. It is financially possible. We can afford it. The District isn?t asking for a handout. We are willing to pay for the services, even if it means a new tax. So what is the holdup? Does the Clark County Fire Department not share the moral obligations as the Moapa Valley Fire District? Or is that just another area where we must stand alone; separate and independent?
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