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Help from other agencies boosts firefighters’ efforts

The Boulder City Fire Department has 18 full-time firefighters and a dozen part-time employees called reserves.

On any given day there are only six firefighters divided among three operating vehicles to handle fire and medical/trauma calls. These firefighters, with the direction from two chiefs and help from two support staff members, handle all the emergency response calls for Boulder City.

Operating out of one station, the department covers a service area of approximately 265 square miles that includes several recreation areas (Bootleg Canyon, the dry lake bed and Lake Mead National Recreation Area). The department also provides mutual aid support at Hoover Dam and hotel-casino facilities near our service area. This is the largest jurisdiction for a fire department in Nevada. The firefighters respond to emergency calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The majority of emergency response calls are directly related to emergency medical services, which consist of medical and trauma calls. When citizens pick up the phone and call 911 for an emergency, be it the need to take a person to the hospital, traumatic injuries such as falls and car accidents or public assists, Boulder City firefighters respond and are responsible for being both the first responders and the transporting agency. The mission of the Boulder City Fire Department is to provide safe, fast and effective treatment for all medical calls, as well as safe and effective conservation of life and property during fire-related emergencies.

Boulder City firefighters are working with a total of six firefighters in three responding vehicles handling all emergency calls, compared to neighboring agencies in the Las Vegas Valley such as Henderson Fire Department and Clark County Fire Department, which would have upward of 30 firefighters responding to a single residential house fire. The obvious reason for the large number of firefighters on the scene of such a fire is the safety of the citizens and residents, as well as the safety and protection of the responding firefighters.

For example, a fire that breaks out in the home of a person living in the Las Vegas Valley would have minimum of two responding engines (apparatus designed to pump water for fire suppression) equipped with four firefighters each, multiple ladder trucks (trucks designed for aerial fire suppression, ventilation and fast egress from multistoried buildings) equipped with four firefighters each, as well as a multitude of rescue ambulances equipped with two firefighters each responsible for fire attack, patient care and rehab for recuperating firefighters needing to rest and recover before going back to the hot zone of the fire scene. There also would be two battalion chiefs for safety and incident command. With all the responding apparatus to the scene of the fire the number of firefighters on scene quickly adds up.

Boulder City firefighters are responsible for the same end result, suppressing the fire, however because of the limited number of firefighters working on a day-to-day basis the number of responding firefighters is dramatically less. As firefighters we have to maintain a steady mindset of safety: safety for ourselves, our partners and our citizens.

In the event of a large fire, such as our most recent house fire on California Avenue that destroyed the home of King Elementary School teacher Lisa Combs and her family, Boulder City Fire Department relies on the professional courtesy of mutual aid. Because such fires tend to grow in size rapidly, the safest way to be proactive is to request the assistance of Henderson Fire Department.

The guidelines for the Boulder City Fire Department state that in the event the incident commander deems the fire’s size to outweigh the resources available he can request additional resources from neighboring departments.

For example, in the event of a two-alarm fire, like the one California Avenue, the mutual-aid requested would be one engine company, one truck company and one rescue company as well as a responding battalion chief from Henderson Fire Department. With this request, the six Boulder City firefighters would receive the assistance of an additional 10 firefighters.

“Understanding the number of people we have versus the number of people needed to safely and quickly carry out the tasks required, it’s very simple to realize we need to call for help in order to do the best job we can. The facts are it’s a dangerous, hot and demanding job. Just setting up the required equipment (hoses, fans, tools, ladders) to begin the firefight taxes our crew beyond its capabilities,” Division Chief Chuck Gebhart says, “so the need for HFD to assist us is an easy call to make, and it’s made even easier when you are trying to meet the (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and (National Fire Protection Association) requirements for firefighting agencies.”

Even with the assistance from Henderson firefighters, this number is still lower than the average response to a fire in the Las Vegas Valley. In the event of a larger fire, such as a third- and fourth-alarm fire, there may an even larger number of resources coming to assist from Henderson Fire Department as well as Clark County Fire Department.

There is a long history of mutual aid in the fire service field. Boulder City Fire Department has a long running professional relationship with departments across the valley. We are brothers in arms against fire and extend our assistance to each other if and when we are needed. We don’t ask questions, when the bells sound for an emergency we go. Safety is our first and foremost priority, we put our lives on the line to preserve property and to save lives. It’s our job, but at the end of the day we all like to go home to our families.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the mutual aid process here in Boulder City, feel free to contact me at the Boulder City fire station at 702-293-9228, or you can email me at bshea@bcnv.org.

Brian Shea is a Boulder City paramedic/firefighter.

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