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L.A. city, county officials seek review of 911 dispatches

Los Angeles city and county lawmakers are calling for reviews of 911 dispatching procedures following a Times investigation that found significant delays in how long it takes rescuers to respond to emergencies near city borders.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors ordered county fire officials to report back on how their agency works with other departments in the region to dispatch rescuers to emergencies.

At the same time, City Councilman Mitchell Englander said he plans to introduce a similar motion at City Hall that calls for examining ways to improve cooperation between the two fire departments. Englander, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, said technological upgrades and clearer agreements may be needed to ensure that when someone dials 911, the closest rescue unit is sent.

"In this modern day of technology and being able to graphically map out not just where the city resources are but where the county resources are, it's shocking that those systems are not in place," Englander said. "We border a lot of cities. We've got to work seamlessly together."

The city and county agencies agreed to link their dispatching systems more than 30 years ago. That's what fire departments in other parts of the city and state do, ensuring that the closest rescue unit is automatically dispatched.

But a Times analysis of more than 1 million LAFD responses over the last five years found city dispatchers rarely reached across the border for county help.

The analysis found that 911 callers within a quarter mile of the city border are nearly 50% more likely to wait more than 10 minutes for help to arrive. Firefighters are supposed to arrive in less than six minutes to almost all medical emergencies, according to national standards embraced by the LAFD.

The analysis also found that in more than 70,000 medical responses, the LAFD sent rescuers to locations where county firehouses were closer.

If dispatchers want to summon county units, they must use telephones, a process they say takes too long.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings said last week that he wasn't familiar with the agreement with the county and could not comment on it. City Fire Commissioner Alan Skobin promised his panel would take up the issue, saying, "If there's a way to leverage technology to get another unit to the scene, we should be doing that."

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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