Carson City public safety agencies saw plenty of change in 2017
This past year brought new faces, more calls and new challenges for Carson City public safety agencies.
Both the Carson City Sheriff’s Office and Fire Department were filled with new leadership in 2017.
At the Fire Department, an entirely new administration started this year. Current Chief Sean Slamon arrived in March following former Chief Bob Schreihans’ retirement.
“It has been awesome, I have absolutely enjoyed every minute of it and am amazed by how great of a fire department we have and how wonderful this community is,” Slamon said.
Slamon came from Modesto, Calif., where he served as chief for three years before coming to Carson City.
The 29-year veteran has used the last eight months in his position to work on developing leadership and training in the department.
Since he started, the department promoted three battalion chiefs and three captains and six new firefighters. Those promotions prompted the department to create its first leadership academy to focus on strong command in the organization.
In addition to the new chief, the department also gained a new deputy chief, Chris Vaughn.
Vaughn came from Salinas, Calif., where he was a battalion chief.
“It was a great organization, great people but it was time for a different opportunity,” Vaughn said. “I did my research with the organization and I realized this is the place I need to be because Carson City has opportunities that I wanted to be a part of.”
The chief and his second-in-command actually knew each other. Vaughn said he first met Slamon in California when they were in the Training Officer Association and Slamon was one of his mentors.
Vaughn said the move to Carson was a great thing.
“I fell in love with the organization because of the genuine nature of the individuals and I get to work with up front, direct, passionate people whose values I align with,” Vaughn said. “I love this job and I love these people.
“The big picture is modern training on a frequent basis and looking to meet the growth demands in Carson City,” Vaughn said. “We need to show we can meet those needs.”
The Sheriff’s Office has also seen some new faces this year.
With the retirement of former Undersheriff Steve Albertsen, new administrators were placed in that position along with the assistant sheriff position.
It was announced in November former Assistant Sheriff Ken Sandage would take Albertsen’s spot. The Louisiana native has been with Carson City since 1991 where he has worked his way up from deputy to captain to undersheriff.
“I am most looking forward to leading the department in the challenges we face as a community,” Sandage told the Appeal in November. “Every day you read something awful that has happened, whether it is a school shooting or an act of evil in a church, I think as a leader you have to embrace those challenges and make sure people are properly trained and equipped properly and mentally ready to face those threats.
“I want to keep the momentum going, and not get complacent because the crime rates are down and don’t get complacent because we haven’t had a situation like IHOP. We have to continue to excel with leadership, education, and engagement with the community to make this a better place to live.”
The department also announced in December it selected Jerome Tushbant as the new assistant sheriff. Tushbant has 27 years of law enforcement experience, most recently, serving as the chief of police for the Nevada Department of Public Safety, Capitol Police Division.
“I am so excited to be at the Sheriff’s Office, there are wonderful people and I like the sheriff’s direction,” Tushbant said. “I am proud to be a part of this family.”
One of the newest projects introduced to the Fire Department is the Basic Life Support ambulance program.
The new ambulance is designed to take non-emergency calls and transports — calls that before took up a lot of time and resources for emergency ambulances.
“So these people are trained emergency technicians but they aren’t firefighters, so they handle low level calls and transfers when they are non-emergencies,” Slamon said. “In turn it softens a stressed workload on the ambulances and increases availability to respond to more critical workloads.”
Before the BLS ambulance, a portion of the emergency ambulances’ call volume was interfacility transfers that required an ambulance for things such as appointments, X-rays and other non-emergency tasks. The BLS ambulance was put into place in October to help offset that increase in call volume.
“We needed to find a way to address this issue but still provide the same level of service that Carson City enjoys (from us),” Slamon said.
The ambulance houses two full-time trained EMTs, but don’t have the fire training as the rest of the department.
“It was a creative way to address the problem as the two BLS personnel are trained at the emergency technician level but they aren’t firefighters so it was a cost effective way to addressing our lower level calls,” Slamon said.
The BLS ambulance currently works Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and the department is monitoring the program to see if and how it can continue to expand it in the future.
So far, the ambulance has responded to 185 calls, an average of about two or three a day, from October to December.
“They spend about an hour and 15 minutes on average per call, time that used to be used by our paramedics so this helps keep our regular ambulance available for more life-threatening calls,” Slamon said. “It has been well received and has provided a little relief for our current ambulances.
“We monitor the program every day because we want some solid data on it before we look at expanding the program more. Right now, it is showing positive return.”
The Sheriff’s Office is also working on a partnership between the coroner’s office and Nevada Donor Network.
The Donor Network will be responsible for contacting family members or next of kin after an individual passes to inquire about donating their organs.
“We give them the contact and they will talk to the families because they have trained people who know how to best talk to next of kin for donor information,” said Ruth Rhines, senior deputy coroner for Carson Sheriff. “It is a touchy subject because not everyone is always on board with a decision like this. There is the human side to it all.”
Rhines said often donation becomes difficult if family members don’t agree with each other or don’t agree with the wishes of the deceased.
“We felt we could do better and the Washoe County Medical Examiner thought we could work more closely together because time is essential when you are talking about donation programs,” Rhines said. “We are happy to have worked through this and work better at seeing to someone’s wishes.”
The Carson coroner’s office doesn’t have a database for organ donation, so even if someone has consented to organ donation on their license sometimes there isn’t a way for them to find out about it in time. And with the coroner’s office seeing an average of two deaths a day, time is essential for organ donation.
“We go out on lots of deaths and haven’t done a good job with that,” Rhines said.
There’s a long list of criteria for a body to be eligible for donation, including age, cause of death, disease and even where the body is being kept at.
Now, they will refer the case to Nevada Donor Network so they can take care of that side of the death.
“It is a delicate topic we have been talking about for some time,” Rhines said.
One of the biggest concerns with public safety again is the abundance of calls both agencies are seeing.
The Fire Department has seen an increase in total call volume: 10,803 in 2017; averaging about 800 to 900 calls per month and a 5 percent increase in total call volume from the previous year.
“This was our busiest year ever,” Slamon said.
Slamon said there was an increase in fire calls of 20 percent and an increase of 4 percent in medical calls since 2016.
“Another plan is to evaluate the operation efficiencies and needs because one concern is the 5 to 6 percent call volume increase each year with no increase in resources in the last 15 years,” Slamon said. “Outside of the BLS ambulance, we peaked at about 11,000 this year and our concern is that we haven’t had that population increase yet.”
With housing development plans for the city, Carson’s population will grow, which will put a huge burden on already maxed out public safety agencies. Currently, the Fire Department has 60 total uniformed personnel in the department, which is about 15 firefighters and a battalion chief on duty each day for 24 hour rotations. They also have a seasonal wildland fire crew that was reestablished last year.
“On the bright side, the growth is good for the city and good for the economy but it is a greater strain for our public safety resources,” Slamon said. “We want to see what we are doing well, see if our stations are in the right locations for appropriate response times for our highest probable calls.”
Slamon said they will look at call data for time of day; day of the week, month and year; where the call spikes are; and where they are located. He said the goal is to predict and respond, so they can make sure they are utilizing their resources and personnel most efficiently.
“Typically we have seen the increase of call volume the last few years and that came without the population increase,” Slamon said. “We anticipate an increase of population will create a greater demand on our resources, negatively effecting our service reliability. We are beginning plans to address additional resource needs and evaluating creative solutions to continue to provide the same outstanding services our citizens enjoy today.”
The Sheriff’s Office has actually seen a drop in calls, but still ran nearly 18,000 for the year.
Furlong said this is a decrease however by about 3,751 from 2016.
“We are doing well, our calls for service have maintained, especially overall in the last four months,” Furlong said. “They are somewhat below our trend and I am very pleased with that. It reflects what we think was a good year with our crime rate.”
The Sheriff’s Office has seen a decrease in overall crime rates however in 2017, nearly 6 percent from the year before. Narcotics offenses are down 20 percent from 2016, which Furlong said was interesting due to the legalization of marijuana in June.
“Narcotics is often the challenge, our emphasis with marijuana issues is DUIs and juvenile behaviors but in both cases, there aren’t any major alarms with it,” Furlong said.
WHAT’S COMING IN 2018
The fire administration decided the coming year will be focused on ways to improve its organization to grow internally as well as look at how to improve to combat external growth and needs.
One of those focuses will be on leadership development to strengthen the organization.
“Something we will continue to focus on is professional development, focused on leadership and emergency operations skills,” Slamon said.
With that leadership growth, the chief also wishes to look at what the department needs to do to keep up with the growing Carson population.
The fire administration is planning on looking into a five to 10 year look for the department to assess what service needs the department will likely have to provide.
“We need to look out and see what we need to provide the same level of services we provide today and how we can continue to assure that,” Slamon said.
While the department has been working on fixing some of these needs, such as more manning, the department still is down positions due to retirements.
“We are still down positions and we will continue to fill those,” Slamon said. “The first step was the BLS ambulance, and that has helped, but we looked at the volume increase and realize we will need additional staffing eventually. So we will eventually look at that five to 10 year plan so we can provide the city what it needs.”
One of those needs is some new equipment.
“We are working on a plan to address our aging apparatus, we have one engine coming and we hope to replace a few others that are past their prime,” Slamon said.
Each fire engine costs about $600,000 but will run about 12 to 20 years before it needs replacing again.
Slamon said they also hope to buy a ladder truck in the coming years, as it’s a piece of equipment Carson doesn’t own but is starting to need.
“We are developing a plan and identifying funding to purchase a ladder truck,” Slamon said. “We have roughly 100 buildings that are three stories or over 30 feet high and we don’t have the ability to access roofs or higher floors.”
For fires that high, the department has to call in mutual aid from East Fork Fire District or Tahoe Douglas Fire, which can take roughly 15 to 30 minutes to arrive in Carson, if it’s available.
“Nationally it is recommended that a ladder is there 10 minutes or less from the time of dispatch and right now we don’t have that ability,” Slamon said.
To purchase the truck will only be a one-time bill Slamon will be looking at including in the next budget.
“If all goes well, we will hopefully see it in the summer of 2019,” Slamon said.
“A ladder truck is about $1 million so it is a big sticker request, but they are necessary apparatuses and we will use them for a very long time.”
For the Sheriff’s Office, the coming year is about focusing on cutting down on issues contributing to crime.
Furlong said one major thing they’re focusing on is an emphasis on drug and alcohol offenses in 2018.
“With both we can reach out and be proactive to a degree,” Furlong said. “But both contribute to 80 percent of the crimes we see in Carson City.”
One of those problems is the number of DUI arrests the department sees, so Furlong said he wants that to be one of the major drives this year again.
“We need to look at the things we can do and draw stronger awareness with checkpoints, Joining Forces events and traffic. These are things we can do to step up our emphasis.”
Another substance abuse crime that has increased is the amount of aggravated assaults. The department has seen an increase of 25 percent in 2017 from the year prior.
“Aggravated assault behaviors are often attributed to alcohol and it is what we tried to draw attention to last year, but this is where we need to focus some resources to make the biggest impact to the community,” Furlong said.
This year, he’s hoping however to work on reestablishing a traffic enforcement unit. As of October, the department was responding to nearly 45 accidents a month, with multiple fatal accidents occurring in 2017.
Furlong said while they have Motor Unit members, who are supposed to handle traffic related problems, the manpower shortage doesn’t allow them to focus solely on that duty like they should. He said at the moment it’s more like a traffic management unit rather than an enforcement unit. So, Furlong wants to go to the Board of Supervisors to get the funding to establish the traffic management unit, who won’t respond to calls for service and only handle crashes, tickets, enforcement and education.
“Sgt. Earl Mays, who is in charge of our motor unit and School Resource Officers is doing a commendable job with attention to traffic activities,” Furlong said. “When I go to the board with the budget, I anticipate discussion of implementation of the traffic management unit.”