LAS VEGAS -- Local firefighters and private ambulance executives are going at it again. This time, the firemen say they have proof that the companies want to force them out.
The top executive in the local ambulance companies laid out his plans for taking over all emergency services in the valley, but he didn't know he was being taped.
Like most communities, we have a dual response system -- first responders consisting of firefighter units backed up by private ambulance companies. Firefighters and the ambulance companies have been at each other's throats for months, in part because of suspicions that each side wants to get rid of the other altogether. Now, the firefighters say, they've got proof.
"I can tell you, point blank, we have no interest in trying to privatize the fire department out of EMS. We value that relationship," said John Wilson with American Medical Response.
When AMR's John Wilson made that statement back in November, he had not yet seen his employee Christmas party video taking potshots at fire department programs, or the ominous post script on that same tape from General Manager Mike Gorman.
"The fire department is a thorn in everyone's side. I'm working hard to make this go away," said Gorman.
Make it go away how? That's what firefighters have been wondering. For the most part, firefighters are the first responders to medical emergencies, supplemented by the private ambulance companies. On the streets, the competing crews work well together, but there is genuine tension at higher levels.
Across the country, local governments have privatized ambulance service as a way to save money. That's what local firefighters think the ambulance companies want to do here.
"I thought something like this was coming down the pipe a while ago," said Dean Fletcher with the Las Vegas Firefighters Union.
"They will have a plan in place to put this privatization study out there, then use other organizations to manipulate their message," said Jeff Hurley with the North Las Vegas Firefighters Union.
How can they be so sure? Because Mike Gorman said as much, more than once. His candid comments made in November were secretly recorded, and the I-Team obtained the tapes of Gorman laying out a plan to pressure local governments.
"I want to put media pressure on the fire departments and the city councils, too," he said.
The main focus of his plan would be to get someone else to conduct a seemingly independent study of privatization.
"If I do a study and then drop it in the newspaper like that, that's what they want to avoid and that's what's going to happen," he said. "I'm thinking about two different fronts: I want someone not associated with us but who's more of a right wing organization, Republican based, then I want something very left based -- something coming from the SEIU. There is only one obvious conclusion that can come from all of it."
In addition to using the SEIU, Gorman also mentioned the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce as a front for the study. Gorman is a board member of that chamber. While his colleague John Wilson said in November there was no lobbying effort in favor of privatization, on the tapes, Gorman claims to have the North Las Vegas council already locked up.
"I talked to two city council members on Friday and they are not playing games with them this year. They are not," he said. "So this time these guys are going to be screwed. I can't wait till this meeting. You know Hurley is going to look like an absolute (expletive). I already pre-empted all the city council with this."
When informed about the tapes, a spokesperson for AMR said that Gorman may have made "offhand remarks," but the company has no intention of privatizing the system. Firefighters are not convinced. They point to the direct participation of company executives in the election campaigns for the North Las Vegas council, and the fact the company is asking for an extended and exclusive contract.
"They are coming after us. They are involved politically, as you heard on the audio tape. They are pushing for a no compete extension," said Hurley. "The question I would ask is, where is the value in that for the city -- for the citizens? Why would you stop competition?"
The ambulance companies assured 8 News NOW that they do not want to take over, just preserve their franchises. But they are convinced firefighters are trying to force them out of the market. Basically, both sides think the other is out to get them and both deny that is the case.
The companies say that despite Gorman's comments, there is no privatization study underway or planned. They gathered comparative figures, they say, as a defensive measure.