RENO — “Today is a great day for Reno, Nev. citizens,” said Reno Mayor Bob Cashell at a news conference Thursday.
The City of Reno announced it has found a way to staff all its fire stations with four-man crews and keep open all 14 of its stations with the help of a $13 million, 2-year federal grant.
The grant by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and arrives at a time when the city and Washoe County are in the midst of a divorce of regional fire districts.
Talks between the county and the city to create a Joint Powers Agreement broke down. No further discussions are scheduled. The county is expected to stand up its own fire district by combining Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District and Sierra Fire Protection District by July 1, a date that some find may be unrealistic.
The county’s move was expected to immediately cost 80 Reno firefighters their jobs, but city staff and administration quickly went to work to find a way to save those jobs, said Cashell.
“We had to go out and protect our citizens and that’s what we did,” Cashell told the Daily Sparks Tribune following the press conference. “And so we were able to set it up for two years.
“I’m just as happy as I can be. We had to start working to take care of our side. It’s a great day,” Cashell said.
Reno firefighter Clint Hayes, who until Thursday, faced losing his job, said he was ecstatic about the news.
“I really want to share this with my family right now,” Hayes said.
He, his wife and two young girls have struggled as a family the past few years — battling cancer and an uncertain career at the same time.
“I was laid off last year,” Hayes said. “Today, this puts me down a positive path. Now, we can start moving forward with this. I’m just fortunate to have a job.”
Hayes was one of more than 60 firefighters who had been issued lay-off notices following Washoe County’s decision to divorce from the City of Reno and stand up its own fire districts within the Truckee Meadows region.
Newly hired Chief Charles Moore who will oversee TMFPD and Sierra Fire, still has an operation plan to open the 11, and three volunteer, stations with three- or two-man crews at a yearly budget of $20 million on July 2.
The county fire district will operate with 116 full-time employees, Moore said, but some 60 firefighters were expected to transfer from the Reno Fire Department laterally following expected layoffs.
Moore was unavailable to answer whether the new grant the City of Reno received, allowing the city to retain its firefighting crews, will have an impact on the timeline in finding trained, local firefighters for the new county fire districts.
However, Moore did make a written statement congratulating the city for its award.
“I would like to offer my congratulations to Chief Michael Hernandez and the Reno Fire Department on receiving the Federal SAFER Grant award this morning,” Moore stated. “It’s a positive step forward for improved public safety and will enhance the safety for the citizens of Reno. The entire region benefits from increased investment in public safety when it can be sustainably supported.”
The City of Reno and Washoe County, because the halt in talks and inability to create a Joint Powers Agreement following the divorce over fire districts, still do not have an automatic aid agreement in place. Mutual aid still exists between the two entities.
Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said attaining the federal two-year SAFER grant was “amazing.”
“We will not have to issue any layoff notices,” Hernandez announced to the Reno City Council as he stood at the podium Thursday. A raucous crowd erupted behind him.
“This was a partnership and a team effort,” Hernandez said, speaking of working with the firefighters’ union 731, that made pay concessions. “”It’s gone a long, long way for making things work.”
Cashell said working with union 731 was difficult at times, but nothing was every personal.
“We’ve kicked each other. We’ve bitten each other. We’ve been able to sit down and talk,” Cashell said. “This is just fantastic. It’s been great teamwork. Thank you 731 for working with us.”
Councilman David Aiazzi said he doesn’t know how the auto aid disagreement will affect the relationship between the county and city yet and is unsure whether the county’s plan to stand up its own district on July 1 will provide the best service to the region.
“They will have auto aid problems, dispatch problems,” Aiazzi said. “Thre are still some issues we have to work out. We can’t do anytng with them that will harm these grants. They will now be hiring people who have never worked together.”
Nevertheless, Aiazzi is proud of the Reno’s announcement and ability to get its stations open and ready with the full complement of crews, ready for a summer that is predicted to be one of the worst fire seasons in recent years.
“We will continue to be the premier fire department of the region. We will have all station open,” he said.