Column: It’s one blaze after another inside the L.A. Fire Department, now home to an anti-vax movement
Will there ever be an end to the long string of scandals and embarrassments plaguing the Los Angeles Fire Department?
I wouldn’t bet on it. In just the last few months, here’s the scorecard after reporting by my colleagues Dakota Smith, James Rainey and Paul Pringle:
For the record:
7:00 a.m. Sept. 4, 2021An earlier version of this column said an October vaccination mandate approved by the L.A. City Council was awaiting Mayor Eric Garcetti’s signature. Garcetti has signed it.
The U.S. Justice Department said a month ago that it was “carefully reviewing” claims of bias and corruption alleged by Black and Latino firefighters. Female members of the department have complained of a frat house culture in an LAFD that is allegedly “littered with cruel leadership” and misogyny. Complaints were lodged against a commander who was allegedly drunk on duty.
And I’m working on a story about a whistleblower complaint alleging that on repeated occasions, a captain in the LAFD training division was on a golf course while getting paid to be at work.
More on that in a bit. But first, I took some time off for a cross-country trip, and while I was driving through states with low vaccination rates and high COVID-19 infection rates, the LAFD made the news again.
A 31-year captain in the department released a video saying he was “hopping mad” about an October vaccination mandate approved by the L.A. City Council and signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti. A frothing Capt. Cristian Granucci equated the mandate with tyranny and said, “My head could pop.”
A Los Angeles fire captain, Cristian Granucci, recorded a video of himself criticizing the city’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement
To my knowledge, Granucci’s head has not exploded. So I’d like to call his attention to a news story out of Texas. Why Texas? Because Granucci, quoted in a 2018 story in the Belo Times, an online Texas news site, said he commutes to and from Los Angeles.
“I moved to Texas for a reason,” Granucci was quoted as saying. “For the freedoms that it offers.”
(Actually, roughly a dozen LAFD members live out of state, and shouldn’t those jobs be reserved for Californians?)
Here we go, another freedom-fighting rebel, and what a courageous cause: He won’t take his medicine. I’d like Granucci to know that on my trip, I drove through Texas but kept the windows rolled up, and here’s why:
The leader of the Texas anti-vax movement, founder of the San Angelo Freedom Defenders and a foe of “COVID-19 tyranny” just got COVID-19 and died. An unvaccinated Texas pastor got infected, nearly died, and now regrets resisting the best protection against infection. A Texas state GOP official who mocked masks and vaccinations just died of COVID-19. And between February and late July, of the 9,000 Texans who died of COVID, all but 43 were unvaccinated.
I think the LAFD ought to order Granucci to stay out of California, because for a guy in the first responder business, his selfish resistance to vaccination raises the risk of him infecting station house colleagues and members of the public.
Granucci — who made more than $247,000 last year, which isn’t bad for someone working in a cruel and tyrannical system — said in his video tirade that “many of our members” are with him on his crusade. He may be right about that. Sources have told The Times that hundreds of LAFD firefighters are actively opposing a vaccination mandate.
And now there’s an LAFD group calling itself “Firefighters for Freedom” who are “dedicated to preserving our God-given rights of free choice endowed to us by our creator.” I don’t know if they’ve chosen officers yet, but I’d like to nominate Granucci as president of this knucklehead club, the goal of which, according to the website, is to “stop mandated vaccinations” not just for firefighters but “citizens of this great country.”
“This is not a vaccine versus non-vaccine issue,” the site claims. It’s “a human rights issue.”
I’d like to declare my human right not to have unvaccinated firefighters and paramedics roaming the city day and night, raising the risk of infecting or killing themselves and others.
You may recall that not so many months ago, when I wrote about the multimillion-dollar overtime windfall scored by firefighters at COVID-19 testing sites, LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas argued that his team was delivering an important public service in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
So the department that stepped up to protect public health is now home to an anti-vaccination movement, and I say that unless the freedom fighters have a verifiable medical condition that argues against the jab, they should be given a choice:
Vaccinate or terminate.
And by the way, City Controller Ron Galperin’s recently completed audit of COVID-testing overtime found “several clear problems,” delivering yet another slap to LAFD management.
“There were no formal timekeeping processes used at testing sites — no time clocks or a documented roll call — making it impossible to determine whether sworn staff assigned to the sites worked the full number of hours reported for each shift,” the report said.
This is actually ingenious. They had a system that was so sloppy, it made it difficult to track whether anyone who got paid was actually on the clock. But Galperin still found problems.
“In some instances, salaries were overpaid because overtime was duplicative of time worked during regularly assigned shifts,” he said. “LAFD management did not recognize these errors before approving the erroneous timesheets.”
The Galperin audit found that between March and December of 2020, $14 million in COVID-testing overtime pay was distributed to 1,801 sworn staffers, 129 of whom made more than $25,000 apiece. For all of 2020, total overtime pay in the department hit a record $220 million.
The L.A. Fire Department’s top administrative commander reportedly appeared to be intoxicated at work during the Palisades fire, records show.
And now there’s an investigation into an internal whistleblower complaint alleging that two LAFD captains have been paid many times on days when “they could not possibly have been at work.”
The complaint, which I managed to get a copy of, says registration records at various golf clubs show that one captain was on the links about three dozen times — including outings in Pebble Beach, Rancho Mirage and Utah — when timesheets said he was at work.
The whistleblower said the two captains work in the LAFD training division, of all places, and are taking advantage of “a deeply embedded” culture in which such abuses are common knowledge and often overlooked by the administration. “A few individuals are compromising the integrity” of the department, said the complaint, and one source told me such abuses batter the morale of those who handle their jobs with professional pride.
The whistleblower complaint “remains under investigation,” LAFD spokeswoman Cheryl Getuiza said in an email to me, adding that Terrazas would not comment on the case at this time. Getuiza said an investigation into Granucci’s comments is also under investigation, and although a tiny percentage of LAFD members live out of state, the department is “assessing options to address” the issue.
Another issue or two worth assessing:
How many more examples of mismanagement and institutional rot can Terrazas survive?
And can Garcetti survive U.S. Senate confirmation hearings into his fitness to be ambassador to India if, among other problems, he can’t put out blazes in his own Fire Department?
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