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Panel Urges Adding Staff at Firefighter Air Base

Addressing concerns about helicopter safety, city officials moved Monday to increase staffing for the Los Angeles Fire Department’s air base at Van Nuys Airport so that crews don’t have to be pulled from nearby fire stations.

A state audit released last week and an internal Fire Department audit completed earlier this year both concluded that using pilots, paramedics and other crew members from regular firefighting duty for emergency medical flights increases response times and can compromise safety.

The City Council’s Public Safety Committee recommended Monday that $750,000 be allocated to dedicate 13 additional pilots and paramedics to the Air Operations Unit at Van Nuys.

“It will raise the bar of professionalism with full-time staffing, reduce costly training time, and reduce potential life and property loss as a consequence of faster response times,” Fire Chief William Bamattre told the council panel.

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Included in the funding package is authority to create a new position of chief pilot, which addresses safety audit recommendations that the city no longer put its air operations under control of a non-pilot firefighter.

The state and city audits were ordered after a helicopter crashed in Griffith Park in March 1998, killing three firefighters and a child they were transporting from the scene of a car accident.

Audits found that standard practice at other fire departments is to dedicate crews exclusively for medical and rescue helicopters.


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