Hey firefighter/EMT’s! You need to recertify every 2-3 years to keep your EMT certification right? Have I got a deal for you! We will pay you up to $1200 to take your re-certification training and exam anywhere in the world you want. No strings attached, provided you pass the course. Cruise trips, golf resorts, wherever you want to go it can happen.
Sound farfetched? Nope. Recently, the Reno Gazette-Journal found out a Reno firefighter submitted for reimbursement for $1300 for a cruise ship trip package where he took his EMT re-certification. The travel/training package is offered by a legit local training organization
Are you incredulous? A lot of folks are up in arms about this, and the Gazette-Journal is having a field day with the story. I suspect someone from the City of Reno Finance Department went ballistic when they received the reimbursement request paperwork, and tipped off the newspaper. When I first read the story on Statter911, my initial reaction was anger. Knowing that 35 Reno firefighters have just received pink slips, how can a department be so stupid? But, wait… I put on my old fire chief’s hat and started thinking. Other than public perception, what really is the issue here? In other words, what does the contract say?
I pulled up the 2011-2013 Reno firefighters collective bargaining agreement, and reviewed the language related to training reimbursement. I’m not sure if this is the most current contract in effect, but I’m guessing it is. In reading Article 26, it looks to me like the employee’s request is reasonable and consistent with the contract between the city and the firefighters union (except he submitted for $1000 more than allowed by contract). So, what’s wrong with that?
Back in the day, I approved travel requests from my staff for conferences, certification classes and training sessions being held at popular tourist destinations. Professional conferences, including the International Association of Fire Chiefs conferences are almost always held in big cities like Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Dallas. I found these conferences extremely educational, affirming and fun. The best part of these trips was the networking and sharing of ideas and issues. My staff would almost always come back with new ideas and renewed energy for their jobs. Placing a value on that is impossible (but it was sure as hell more than $1200 a year).
No, given the information in the Gazette-Journal article, I think the firefighter should not be pilloried. Do I think it was bad judgment? Absolutely. But, who’s bad judgment? The firefighter’s? Nope. The battalion chief who pre-approved the training request? Absolutely!
Given the current budget situation, and regardless of the contract language, fire administrators should have asked themselves how this request would look to the general public at a time when essential public safety personnel and services are on the chopping block. The Reno firefighters union must be feeling some heat as well. Perhaps that explains the union’s political director’s tepid comment to the paper when asked about the circumstances regarding the training; “That’s not typical of our membership,” he said. “In my 27 years, I’ve never heard of anything like that.” I’m guessing there will be some serious come to Jesus discussions at their next E-Board meeting.
I’m also curious if the Reno Mayor and Finance Director plan on attending the Government Finance Officers Conference in Minneapolis in a couple of weeks. If so, what will that cost taxpayers? Has the Gazette-Journal asked for all city employee travel reimbursements for the last year? Inquiring minds should want to know.