L.A. fire chief says more money needed to speed up 911 responses


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Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings turned the tables on City Council members Tuesday, blaming response time delays on budget cuts approved by lawmakers.

“You gave us a budget,” Cummings said during a nearly two-hour hearing at City Hall. “We’re giving you the most effective fire department that we can within that budget.”


Cummings had been summoned to appear by council members who complained that he had not produced a requested plan to improve service and shorten response times, which have grown longer since deep budget cuts were approved in 2009.

‘The simple answer is money,’ Cummings told the council. ‘The way we improve response times is by putting more resources in the field.’

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the council cut the LAFD’s annual budget by $88 million--from $561 million in 2008 to $473 million in 2011--after the economic downturn.

This spring, responding to concerns about the department’s performance and a controversy over the accuracy of its response time data, lawmakers added back $40 million, bringing the agency’s budget to $513 million.

Council members requested a blueprint to improve LAFD service six months ago. After the department failed to produce the document, the council summoned Cummings on Tuesday to explain why agency officials were ‘unwilling or unable to develop a plan to reduce response times and improve public safety.’

Instead of discussing future improvements, Cummings and other fire officials spent much of Tuesday’s meeting reviewing recent findings of a task force formed to examine the department’s various data management troubles. In March, department officials disclosed they had been producing response time statistics that made it appear that rescuers were getting to emergencies faster than they actually were.


Councilman Eric Garcetti said he was happy the data problems were being addressed but disappointed the department had not completed a proposal to upgrade future service.
‘I did not hear a plan today,’ said Garcetti, who is running for mayor.

He questioned Cummings’ leadership, saying: ‘I want somebody fighting for this department. Talk to your firefighters out there. They don’t feel that is happening.’ Cummings blamed data problems for the delay in producing the improvement plan sought by Garcetti and the council. He said the department has just two months of accurate response time data and needs more to develop a long-term service plan.

He told the council he used this year’s $40-million budget increase to pay for new rescue units, overtime and part-time staffing for six additional ambulances. He is seeking $50 million more in next year’s budget.

Councilman Richard Alarcon, who voted against department reductions in 2009, said council members should have known their cuts would have consequences.

He also suggested some council members were being disingenuous by suggesting they might not have approved budget cuts had they known the Fire Department was using faulty performance data.

Alarcon asked if his colleagues would have approved the cuts had accurate response times been provided.

‘If your answer is yes . . . then stop crying, stop complaining,” Alarcon said. The council gave Cummings an additional 60 days to produce a five-year service improvement plan.



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-- Kate Linthicum, Ben Welsh and Robert J. Lopez at Los Angeles City Hall