ON YOUR SIDE: Fire crew forced to ignore call for help

RENO, Nev. ( & KRNV) -- When there's a fire or medical emergency, every second counts. If something were to happen to you, you probably hope the nearest crew responds.

But that may not happen, and it did not happen in a recent incident at Boomtown. On Your Side investigates why boundary lines get in the way, in some cases.

On October 24, a guest at Boomtown suffered cardiac arrest. The nearest fire station is right across the street from the Boomtown resort. But Sierra Fire Station 35 is operated by Truckee Meadows Fire, for Washoe County.

Station 35 did not respond, even though they were called. Instead, Reno Fire sent its own crew since the Boomtown Resort lies within City of Reno boundaries.

Tim O'Brien is the Division Chief for the Reno Fire Department. He said, "It's just not the way we conduct business. We don't go into other jurisdictions and deliver service. Nobody does that."

This case did not have a happy ending. The man who suffered the heart attack did not survive. It is important to point out Boomtown staff did administer CPR, and both REMSA and Reno Fire responded within minutes.

Response time in this case may not have made a difference. But it might the next time, and the next time it could be any one of us.

Many say part of the blame lies with de-consolidation. When the city and county split up fire resources two years ago, following a bitter and drawn out battle, automatic aid disappeared.

Truckee Meadows Fire Chief Charlie Moore said his crews are not allowed to go into city territory unless they're asked. Even when it is right across the street.

Moore declined to go on camera for this story, but issued this statement. "We have been advised by both Reno Management and their legal staff that TMFPD is not to respond on behalf of the city without a specific request to do so."

Contractual agreements also prevented Truckee Meadows Fire from calling for mutual aid sooner when a house caught fire in Hidden Valley in November. Although the city disputes it, and says Truckee Meadows could have called for help sooner than they did that night.

Even if the public would say not to worry about jurisdictional protocol in a life-and-death situation, O'Brien said, "It's not really an option. We need to use the mutual aid system."

Mutual aid means one agency can call another for help. But there was a contentious battle over the wording of the mutual aid agreement after the Hidden Valley fire.
O'Brien points in the Boomtown case, the original call did not go through 911. Boomtown staff called the Fire Department and Paramedics directly.

O'Brien says its important to always call 911. "It activates a two-tiered system which will ensure that you get the closest response from the Fire Department and REMSA," O'Brien said, meaning the closest response within that jurisdiction.

Talks are underway to address this situation and improve cooperation between the two agencies. Reno City Councilwoman Neoma Jardon says she thinks something needs to change.

In the meantime, incidents like the one at Boomtown serve as an important reminder: under the current system, jurisdictional boundaries matter. In some cases, even more than life and death.

"We cannot ignore those agreements," O'Brien said.

After the Hidden Valley fire, State Senator Ben Kieckefer brought the city and county together for what have been described as "very productive talks" on the issue of mutual aid. But there are two different issues here, mutual aid and automatic aid.

It remains to be seen how the city and county will address the issue of automatic aid, which would allow the closest crew to respond in an emergency.