Councilman calls for upgrading LAFD technology to iPad era

A new Los Angeles city councilman has called on the Fire Department to prepare a far-reaching plan to expand the ongoing overhaul of the department’s aging technology with the aim of improving responses to 911 calls.

City Councilman Mike Bonin made a motion Wednesday requesting the LAFD and city technology officials to develop a “master plan” to pull together existing upgrade efforts and consult with private-sector technology talent about creating new applications for firefighters to use on tablet computers, like Apple’s popular iPad.

“I live in the land of Google and YouTube and Snapchat” said Bonin, who was elected in March to represent a Westside district that includes many technology companies. “And when I drive into City Hall in the morning, sometimes it feels like I’m living in the early 1970s in terms of technology.”

Bonin said laptop computers currently used by firefighters in the field could be replaced by less expensive tablets and touted the possibility of developing new tools at a low cost by encouraging Good Samaritan efforts from civic-minded computer programmers.

The LAFD’s aging technology was also criticized last week in a report by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, which recommended sweeping reforms, including changes in the department’s computer systems.

An array of expensive upgrades are already underway at the LAFD, including the installation of GPS devices on rescue vehicles, the replacement of its 911 call center’s faulty dispatch database and fixes to the alarm system that alerts rescuers at the department’s 106 fire stations.

The LAFD is also reworking the way it analyzes its own performance, an effort triggered last year after fire officials admitted to overstating response times, which made it appear that rescuers arrived faster than they actually did.

A task force of experts concluded late last year that fire officials charged with analyzing numbers were poorly qualified and that previous departmental data analysis "should not be relied upon."

Subsequent Times investigations found delays in processing 911 calls and summoning the nearest medical rescuers from other jurisdictions, as well as wide gaps in response times in different parts of the city.

Fire Chief Brian Cummings has struggled to restore confidence in his management of the 3,500-employee department since the controversy over flawed response times.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has said that all department managers will have to reapply for their jobs, including Cummings. Garcetti has listed addressing the LAFD as one of his top priorities and interviews will begin July 8, according to mayor’s spokesman Yusef Robb.

During his campaign, Garcetti criticized the fire chief's leadership, questioned the reasoning behind a recent ambulance shift, disagreed with a plan to restructure the agency's 911 call center and asked the department to produce a multi-year “restoration plan” that would reverse budget cuts made during the economic downturn.

Earlier this year, Cummings drafted an ambitious plan to seek additional money from the council to restore about 300 agency positions eliminated in recent years. But he quickly withdrew it, saying that it needed more work.

Bonin also listed the LAFD as one of his top priorities in an interview with The Times on Wednesday.

The councilman said he was upset "that the department has been cutting back and paring back services. I am very eager to see that restoration.”


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