Interview with Clark County Fire Chief Greg Cassell; A Great Hero

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    Written by Megan Way | Photos and Interview by Su Phelps
    After serving as Clark County’s Fire Chief for 5 years, on February 6th, 2020, Fire Chief Greg Cassell will pass on the title of Clark County Fire Chief to Deputy Fire Chief John Steinbeck. Greg Cassell was appointed Fire Chief on Feb. 17, 2015. A Las Vegas Native, he began his career with the Clark County Fire Department (CCFD) in June of 1989. Throughout his career, Chief Cassell has held the ranks of firefighter/paramedic, fire engineer, fire captain, and battalion chief.
    Chief Cassell holds two associate degrees from the Community College of Southern Nevada, two bachelor’s degrees from Colorado State University, and graduated from University Medical Center’s Paramedic Program in May of 1989. He has been an instructor of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) topics for both CCFD and the Community College of Southern Nevada (currently the College of Southern Nevada). Chief Cassell has utilized his expertise to become a founding member and active participant of the Southern Nevada Unified Command’s Type III Incident Management Team where he serves as an Incident Commander and Operations Section Chief.
    He oversees the following:
    30 Full-Time Fire Stations
    10 Volunteer Fire Stations
    70 Front Line Units
    47 Volunteer Units
    867 Personnel
    643 Suppression (Firefighters, Engineers, Captains, and Battalion Chiefs)
    81 Support Staff
    166 Volunteer Firefighters
    Su: I don’t know much about the fire department. I think the general public doesn’t know much about it either. They just see the fire truck and how you guys are so brave. So we’d like to know more about you today. As chief, what are your responsibilities?
    Cassell: So as the Fire Chief I have the overall executive operations of the whole organization. We have 665 uniformed, sworn, personnel somewhere in that area. We have outline districts that we cover with volunteers. Sometimes between 150 to 180 depending on how the volunteer support is at that time. All in all we have over 825-830 in the organization to provide this service to our residents of unincorporated Clark County. The cities like City of Las Vegas, Henderson, Mesquite, Boulder City they have their own incorporated cities and they have their own internal fire departments and we work very closely with them on all of our calls but Clark County Fire has about 7400 square miles that we’re responsible for and the population of about 1.3 million. We also cover Laughlin, Nevada, so with all of that comes over 150 responses a year for 911 calls and an awful lot of contact with our customers, both residents but a lot of visitors in our community too just given the economic base of our community being entertainment and tourist driven we have people from all over the world that we make contact with.
    Su: How do you handle all the fires?
    Cassell: There are two ways we go at it, one is hazard risk reduction, mitigation, trying to educate the public beforehand on the dangers of certain things from candles, cooking, how to do it safely, electrical issues, how to prevent fires right? Because once we have a fire, the prevention piece has been missed somehow. So we do a lot of training with that, do a lot of public outreach. We do our open houses every other month, we get hundreds and hundreds of people attending each one of those events. However, once the fire starts, we are very aggressive and good fire department as far as getting water to the fire as fast as we can and preventing spread. People have asked me many times over the last ten years, ‘We used to have so many big fires years ago, and we don’t have big fires now, what’s the difference?’ and I say it’s because we got better. We got better equipment, we got better people, we got better training and we combined all those things to be a better and more efficient fire department.
    Su: You oversee 30 full-time fire stations. How do you do that? One a day?
    Cassell: I don’t see them very often to be honest with you, but I have a deputy chief of operations and that person oversees the battalion chiefs that run the operation end of the fire department day to day. We have 4 battalion chiefs on duty 24/7. They work the same shifts as the guys and gals on the fire engines and they’re the ones that over see those operations every day. I would love to be at the fire houses all the time, for me it’s a fun place, it’s kinda where I grew up ‘professionally’ but I may see a fire station once or twice a month, where those men and women see the fire station daily
    Su: I understand that you are very close knit with all your first-responders.
    Cassell: Yes, I take every opportunity to talk to or communicate with in some way or another with all the departments, groups, or stations or individuals. I take that opportunity as much as I can cause these are my friends and my work family I’ve been with them for more than 30 years, several of them and there’s a whole group now that don’t even remember Greg Cassell Battalion Chief or Greg Cassell Captain they only know me as Greg Cassell Fire Chief because the department has turned over so much, we’ve had so many retirements. Hundreds of people work on this fire department never seen from any other role than this role. So it’s been a wonderful career.
    Su: How do you keep communicating to all your staff? You’ve got so many of them, how do they reach you?
    Cassell: The staff as a whole, I send out updates about quarterly on what’s going on with the department, what are stats are, what challenges we’re facing. I acknowledge the challenges they have on the field and give them the solutions that we’re working on trying to fix some of the problems the men and women run into and we’ve done tremendously as a staff, not just me, but the fire department staff has done a tremendous job in the last five years finding better ways to use our people and better ways to manage our resources so we can be more effective and efficient at creating a healthy environment for our employees, but it’s not over by any stretch, we have a lot more work to do, the town, the job, the industry is continually evolving for us and we have to stay fluid in how we manage those things in the future.
    Su: I understand at one time, one of the very remarkable jobs you did is the October 1st, Mandalay Bay shooting in 2017. How soon were you on the scene?
    Cassell: I got there probably, 25-30 minutes after the shooting started, the shooting had ended by the time I arrived. I was asleep at home, so I had to get up, get dressed, jump out, and drive across town. That was a very traumatic event for the valley, for the community, for our residents, and our fire department without a doubt. To date we have done over 120 presentations all over the country and it had around 50,000 attendees because we have gone out and talked about that or lessons learned or opportunities from it, what went right, we had a lot of things go right that night which was the culminated effect of years of hard work and dedication by many members of this organization.
    Su: Well you did a good job, because the record shows. Through your leadership.
    Cassell: Yeah, the department did a great job, I can’t take credit for that. They did a wonderful job.
    Su: You have a great department, but I think the your leadership is very important. You lead by example. You started as a firefighter, then paramedic, fire engineer, fire captain, and battalion chief. So you’re really hands-on for every department.
    Cassell: I really enjoyed my time, I was a paramedic for 17 years, gone through the ranks of fire fighter, engineer, and captain. Loved being a paramedic, I loved having the ability to directly impact somebody’s life in an instant as a medic. I just loved the job, as a little kid I would see the show Emergency, back in the 70s. And my whole family’s cops, everybody’s cops, and I was like that’s where I’m going, I wanna be a firefighter paramedic.
    Su: How many years have you been here?
    Cassell: Just short of 31, so 30 years and 8 months is what’ll have in the system. So I’m looking forward to take some time off. I’d like to get back into teaching. I really enjoy teaching.
    Su: You are teaching right now right?
    Cassell: Well I don’t get to do too much because I’m so busy, but I would like to get back into teaching at the college level for commanding and control and fire stuff to take some of my experience and pass it on to the next generation. (smiling) I just don’t want to work 60 hours a week anymore. I’m ready for a change.
    Su: I see so do you have anything to say for the new cadets or firefighters coming in?
    Cassell: Yeah just don’t give up, this is a wonderful career and it is challenging to get into, it’s very competitive but to get their education, to get their experience however they can get it and when they do land an opportunity to be a professional firefighter, to always remember where they came from and to honor that job for the rest of their career.
    Su: Thank you chief and thank you for your service.
    Cassell: You’re welcome, my pleasure.
    Based off of 2017 Total Clark County Incidents:
    Medical 120,383
    Fire 4,068
    False Alarms 2,276
    Hazardous 792
    All Other 6,456
    Patient Transports 238