Fire Commission Backs Chief in Paramedic Feud

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles fire commissioners backed Fire Chief Donald O. Manning on Thursday over a paramedics union chief who had called for the chief's ouster and claimed that improvements in the city's Emergency Medical Service system were not being made quickly enough.

"We . . . are troubled by the call for the chief's resignation," Commissioner Ann Reiss Lane, senior member of the commission and its newly elected president, said after a review of the Fire Department's actions in improving Emergency Medical Service over the last few years.

"The narrow view of the (United Paramedics of Los Angeles) president," she added, "and his gratuitous comments to the press and the commission do not in any way improve medical services to the citizens of Los Angeles or contribute to the improvement of patient care."

Lane said that the city provides "outstanding quality care." What will improve medical services and patient care is for unions representing Fire Department firefighters and paramedics to cooperate in resolving differences, she said.

Fred Hurtado, president of the 421-member United Paramedics, touched off the controversy late last month with charges that the Fire Department has been "unacceptably slow" in making improvements recommended after a study of the emergency medical system's performance over a decade. He accused management of "foot-dragging."

While noting that improvements have been made, Hurtado has insisted that response times are "too long in many cases" and that paramedics are still overworked in some sectors of the city. He claimed that fire-suppression elements of the Fire Department have been slow to embrace Emergency Medical Service because they fear their status and mission will be diminished.

Gains Cited

Ordered by the Fire Commission to summarize emergency improvements, Manning offered a report citing, among other things, an increase in paramedic rescue ambulances from 42 to 48, implementation of priority dispatch protocols to improve responses, and the addition of nine rescue ambulances staffed by volunteers.

Manning also noted at the commission meeting Thursday that 11 fire companies have been equipped with automatic defibrillators to be used in heart attack cases. And he said the department plans to equip all 117 of its engine companies with the instruments by next year, if budgeting permits.

"I'm particularly pleased with the results," said Manning, in assessing his department's Emergency Medical Service progress. "I don't mean to tell you that I'm content. I'm pointing out that we have made some tremendous progress."

Reached later by telephone, Hurtado reiterated his charge that the reaction of Fire Department management to a decade of reports and recommendations on emergency service has been "begrudging, untimely, unnecessarily slow and poorly managed."

Quality Question

When the question of the quality of management has arisen in the past, Hurtado said, it has been "standard practice" for the fire commissioners and the chief to stand up and say, "No, no. Our paramedics do a wonderful job."

Hurtado added: "In our view, this is simply a ploy to sidestep the fundamental issue that we have continually raised. The fundamental issue is management. . . . We have no reason to be proud of the management that is supposed to support us. Ann Lane knows better."

Manning characterized Hurtado's demand for his ouster as "ridiculous."

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