Expert says L.A. Fire Dept. didn't give help to fix response data
Jeffrey Godown tells panel that corrections to Fire Department's response-time data problems would be further along if he'd gotten help when he first started.
Former LAPD data expert Jeff Godown (Brian Vander Brug / August 27, 2012)
Jeffrey Godown, who was brought in by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa amid a growing controversy over the accuracy of LAFD performance reports, told the Fire Commission that the agency has not focused enough effort on correcting a problem critical to managing emergency responses.
His comments provided a rare inside look at institutional problems that have bedeviled the department as it has struggled to accurately and consistently answer a fundamental question: How fast do rescuers get to victims needing medical aid?
Godown's assessment underscores the challenges facing fire commissioners as they try to restore public confidence in the Fire Department's ability to provide timely service.
Godown began his review more than two months ago, but said he never was assigned a full-time associate. And it was not until Monday, he said, that fire officials designated civilian experts to begin analyzing problems with dispatch time calculations generated by department computers.
"I would have, quite frankly, liked to have somebody assigned to me in the beginning of April," Godown told the oversight panel. Had he been assigned an assistant, he said, corrections to the agency's data problems would be further along.
He recounted being told by members of the command staff that "it's really not that big a deal" if response time figures were off by several seconds.
"There has to be a complete overhaul of the mentality of the command staff of why this is in place," Godown said. "Being partly right does not work in this business.... That data is the resource you use to make command decisions to run your department."
Godown told the commission he is leaving Friday to take a job at UC San Francisco. He said he planned to continue working as an LAFD consultant.
Villaraigosa spokesman Peter Sanders said Godown had provided the department "with a new road map" on how to collect and analyze response data. "Chief [Brian] Cummings and the Fire Commission are committed to this effort and will ensure that it is implemented," Sanders said.
A former Los Angeles Police Department officer, Godown helped create that agency's celebrated statistical crime tracking system known as Compstat. He was hired this year to trouble-shoot Fire Department data after officials admitted they had disseminated performance reports that made it appear that crews were getting to emergencies faster than they actually were.
At Tuesday's meeting, the commission agreed to form a working group of experts to address the department's data problems and create an analytical system similar to Compstat. The panel will include firefighters and draw on experts from the LAPD and the Rand Corp., according to Commissioner Alan Skobin, who is overseeing the effort.
"We have the full support and buy-in of the fire chief," Skobin said. Chief Cummings missed Tuesday's meeting because he was attending the funeral of a firefighter who had died off duty.
Commissioners said they want the group ready to begin its work by the next meeting in July. But they acknowledged that creating a more sophisticated data analysis system will not be easy.
"This, for me, is the most important thing we need to be doing with the Los Angeles Fire Department," commission President Genethia Hudley-Hayes said. "It's going to be a whole new way of doing business."
In an interview after the meeting, Godown said he had asked Cummings in April to assign someone to work with him and did not know why the chief hadn't done so. The chief's spokesman, Battalion Chief Armando Hogan, told the commission Cummings was committed to fixing the data-handling problems.
"Jeff was very helpful," Hogan told The Times on Monday. "The job isn't done, obviously."
Eventually, he said, the department hopes to publish its response times in a searchable database online.