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City Council finds money to halt controversial LAFD staffing plan

City Council finds money to halt controversial LAFD staffing plan
Fire Chief Brian Cummings, center, speaking Tuesday at City Hall in downtown Los Angeles. (Christina House / For The Times)

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to give the Fire Department $1.6 million to reverse a controversial new ambulance staffing plan.

The money will pay for the agency to add 11 new ambulances to the department's fleet through June. And it will put at least a temporary halt to a redeployment that as of Sunday reassigned 22 firefighters per shift from engines to medical rescue ambulances.

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Fire Chief Brian Cummings says the new ambulances are necessary to address an increase in 911 medical calls. The agency has been under pressure to improve response times for medical emergencies, which have lengthened in recent years after a series of budget cuts.

But Cummings' new staffing plan has come under attack from groups representing firefighters and the agency's chief officers, who say it puts firefighters and the public at risk.

Speaking to the council before Tuesday's vote, the head of the firefighters union complained that he was not consulted on the staffing changes and said they had not been been properly researched.

"A plan is when you sit down with people and write things out," said Frank Lima, president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City. "We don't call it a plan, we call it the fire chief's dangerous experiment."

The money allocated by the council will be diverted from the city's budget stabilization fund.

Council President Herb Wesson said the money will help reverse deep cuts to the department in recent years. "I’m sure each of us can agree we’ve under-funded the Fire Department," he said. 

The council did not commit to staffing the new ambulances next year, which Cummings said will cost $9 million.

For now, firefighters will be asked to work overtime to staff the ambulances, he said. On days the agency cannot find enough volunteers to work overtime, Cummings said he will opt to staff the ambulances instead of fully staffing the firetrucks.

He said he could not guarantee that the new money will keep firefighters on firetrucks. "I'm staffing for the community need, which is ambulances," he said.

On Friday, Cummings rejected a request from members of the City Council to postpone Sunday's start of the plan.

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Twitter: @katelinthicum

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