Fire Dept update-11-02-17: City councilman George Rapson congratulated Mesquite Police Chief Troy Tanner, right, after Tanner’s appointment as interim Fire Department administrator by the city council in July. Tanner said his focus has been on improving communications, documenting the chain of command, and updating policy manuals. Photo by Barbara Ellestad.

“When I took the appointment, I focused on three major areas that appeared to need improvements in the Fire Department,” Mesquite Police Chief Troy Tanner said in an exclusive interview with the Mesquite Local News. “I wanted to improve communications, document the chain of command, and update policy manuals. We’ve done all three of those things in a very short period of time.”

Tanner was appointed as interim Fire Department Administrator July 1 after the previous fire chief was terminated. City council and manager made the unusual move with the intent of correcting management difficulties within the department before hiring a permanent fire chief.

Tanner said policy manuals had been updated or changed over the last 10 years but many of the added policies conflicted with those already in place. “No one had completed a comprehensive review of all the policies. As new chiefs were hired, they just added to what was already there. Now, we’ve completely rewritten the policy manuals and will shortly finish training for all the fire department personnel.”

He said that firefighters will have a more comprehensive set of directives that will give them clear-cut guidelines on how to do their jobs and everyone will do everything the same regardless of their shift assignment.

In conjunction, Tanner reorganized the chain of command starting with the August appointment of Administrative Captain Jayson Andrus. He also revised the administrative assistant position to one of a grant specialist and hired a new person to fill it. “There are a lot of federal and other agency grants available that we just haven’t applied for. We increased the number of grants we went after in the police department and it really helped us. I know we can do the same in the fire department.”

In fact, Tanner announced that a shared grant for both the fire and police departments was just awarded. The $18,000 cybersecurity grant will be used to improve information technology and communications security.

Tanner also reorganized the physical location of the fire department’s main operations by moving the captains’ offices and training room at Fire Station No. 3 and making that location the primary center. “We reduced the number of firefighters and trucks at Station No. 1 behind city hall and increased the number at Station No. 3. By doing that we actually improved our response times to emergency calls. We also upgraded security at Station No. 3 by adding cameras throughout the building and adding a controlled-entry badge system.”

Tanner produced a visual chain of command chart calling it “the first one the department has ever had.” Not only does it show who reports to whom but also outlines each shift captain’s responsibilities for activities throughout the department. “Now everyone knows exactly who they report to and it’s a much clearer picture of our staffing,” he said.

Tanner’s reorganization of the chain of command reduced overtime costs “to the tune of about $18,000 in the first quarter,” he said. “We were paying for a temporary captain at one station that we didn’t need to.”

He also revised the policy on using reserve firefighters by enforcing a rule that requires them to serve two days a month or face removal from the program. “That gave us an extra 20 days a month of manpower that we could use to fill in around our regular employees. While we are more than willing to work with our reserves, we will terminate them if they fail to fulfill the policy.”

Another critical area Tanner changed was the necessary training and certification a potential employee must have before they’re hired. “Training and skill requirements for firefighters are so incredibly high,” he said. “Unlike the police department where we only require minimal training before we hire someone and then we send them to school, the fire department required all the training first before a person could get hired.” He reduced the training requirement for a potential employee to a 16-week emergency medical technician course. After that, the department will arrange further training once the person is hired.

Tanner said the Mesquite Fire Department is more an emergency medical response organization than a firefighting department. “We do 90 percent medical response and 10 percent fire response. Not many other cities have that mix. Because of that, we’re currently doing a medical transport study that will determine our real staffing needs.”

To improve communications Tanner now holds a bi-weekly meeting with all captains and deputy chiefs, something he says hasn’t happened in more than a year. “We now have conversations among all the managers and hash out problems or situations. I think the managers and employees are working together better now because everyone is getting the same information at the same time.”

He’s also working on better communications between firefighters and the public by assigning each captain and his shift to help coordinate and participate in community events like the Bunkerville Elementary Fall Festival, Veterans Day parade and Mesquite Night Out.

Tanner’s interim appointment agreement with the city requires him to fulfill the position for a minimum of six months with a possible six-month extension. He is also required to nominate to the city manager a new fire chief. He said he’s not ready to name a permanent chief because he feels he still has work to do. “I ripped the band-aid off the first month I took the interim position and went from there. We’re past the training ground stage but we still have a way to go.”

He said the department “looks completely different than when I started just by making changes in the policy manuals. It’s really starting to come together. I just want to make sure everything all of us have done will establish a solid base for the future.”