Managing Fire Department Approvals in the City of Las Vegas – CLV Fire Meeting

Over the past decade, being a successful private company in Southern Nevada meant being able to quickly adapt to rapidly changing economic conditions. This was not only the case during the economic downturn but also in the recovery that followed. Like the private sector, the same can also be said for our local government agencies.

To stay current, these agencies must place an emphasis on managing the delivery of customer service offerings. This can include streamlining their processes, reorganizing departments, providing appropriate staffing levels, and soliciting feedback from industry stakeholders.

On July 11, 2016, chapter representatives Michael Shohet (President) and Michael Gentille (Govt. Affairs Committee), along with counterparts from the Southern Nevada Homebuilders Association and the Nevada Contractors Association, met with City of Las Vegas officials to discuss the delivery of Department of Fire Prevention (DFP) services.

Deputy City Manager Orlando Sanchez and Executive Director Jorge Cervantes discussed the results of an independent report (by Kirchhoff & Associates*) the City had commissioned to examine restructuring DFP services. Mr. Sanchez outlined steps the City has already implemented based on report recommendations. These include; the addition of new technical and administrative fire plan-review staff, the hiring of a new Fire Marshall to oversee all plan-review and inspection staff, the installation of a new Fire plan-review Manager, a thorough review of all current application and approval processes, a directive urging better internal coordination/ communication between DFP and Building & Safety Department (BSD) staff, and an internal review of their current fee structures.

While industry representatives noted they view these changes as positive, they pointed out that additional report recommendations have yet to be sufficiently addressed. Chief among them was a recommendation to combine the DFP plan-review and inspection teams with their BSD counterparts into a single intake and management structure. They noted the report provides several justifications for this, which benefit both the City of Las Vegas, as well as the private development industry.

For the City’s part, such a merger would result in not only safer buildings but also significant cost savings for the City. This is because fire plan-review and inspection fees would start to be covered as part of the Development Enterprise Fund, rather than the City’s General Fund Budget. In other words, the burden to cover these expenses would shift from general taxpayer to the actual permit applicant. This is more consistent with the developer-driven “pay as you go” model that currently exists in Southern Nevada.

For the private sector, permit applicants would get the benefit of both “one-stop-shopping” and standardized permit approval timelines. At present, permit applications for nearly all commercial developments (i.e. those having fire alarm and/or sprinkler systems) must be independently reviewed and approved by both departments. The timeline for each department to complete their reviews can vary greatly. For example, if a permit applicant pays significantly higher fees for an Expedited plan review, BSD approval can often be given within a one (1) to (3) day timeline. However, because the DFP does not participate in this process, their minimum standard review timeline of 10 working-days governs how quickly this type of permit ultimately gets issued. Unfortunately, the disparity can grow exponentially since it applies to both initial plan submissions as well as follow-up correction responses to them.

This combined departmental approach is not unique. At present, Clark County, the City of Henderson, and the City of North Las Vegas have each successfully implemented the merger of these services. When asked what barriers prevented the City of Las Vegas from also implementing these changes, no reasons beyond “staff reluctance to change” were cited. In response to this, industry representatives were quick to note that these issues had already been successfully addressed at all other local agencies, and thus did not appear to represent barriers the City of Las Vegas could not also overcome.

In addition to the issues noted above, industry representatives also addressed their concern that conflicts between City building and fire code requirements continue to impact downtown development. Among these conflicts is a requirement to add automatic sprinkler systems to nearly all existing non-sprinklered commercial buildings. The costs associated with this discrepancy can easily determine whether or not a tenant improvement project in a vacant building make financial sense to proceed. This is in contrast to that same structure potentially remaining unoccupied for an indefinite period of time.

It was also pointed out that these requirements are not applicable in any of the other local jurisdictions across the Las Vegas valley. As a result, they could potentially create a competitive disadvantage for the City of Las Vegas when trying to attract new businesses or in supporting the expansion of existing commercial tenants.

Based on the additional industry feedback presented in this meeting, City officials agreed to consider them in deliberation of their final recommendations to the City Council for possible future action.

Please click on the link below to view the Kirchhoff & Associates report.
Restructuring the Fire Plan Review and Fire Construction Inspection Process for the City of Las Vegas

Michael Gentille, C.B.O
President & CEO
PCNA Consulting Group
(702) 834-6200 |

*Kirchhoff & Associates. Restructuring the Fire Plan Review and Fire Construction Inspection Process for the City of Las Vegas. Las Vegas: City of Las Vegas. September 16, 2015.