L.A. Fire Department is asked to broaden its tech reach
With the aim of improving 911 response times, a new Los Angeles city councilman is pushing for a far-reaching plan to expand the Fire Department’s overhaul of its aging technology systems.
Mike Bonin has asked the LAFD and city technology officials to develop a “master plan” to better coordinate a series of upgrades being made to the department’s dispatching and data systems. Among other things, he wants city officials to work with private-sector experts to explore creating new applications that firefighters can use on tablet computers, such as Apple’s popular iPad.
“I live in the land of Google and YouTube and Snapchat” said Bonin, who was elected in March to represent a Westside district that includes many technology companies. “And when I drive into City Hall in the morning, sometimes it feels like I’m living in the early 1970s in terms of technology.”
Bulky laptop computers currently used by firefighters in the field could be replaced by lighter, less expensive tablets, Bonin said. Improved digital tools could be developed at a low cost with the help of civic-minded computer programmers, he suggested.
The LAFD’s aging technology was criticized last week by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, which issued a report recommending sweeping department reforms, including new computer systems.
Another new councilman, Gil Cedillo, has called on LAFD officials to respond to the grand jury report. Repairing the department’s battered public image is one of his top priorities, Cedillo said.
“People have to know that they are safe, and they have to feel that they are safe,” he said. “People don’t want to do business in a place where they think there is crime or we don’t have a capacity to respond to their concerns and emergencies.”
An array of costly upgrades are underway at the LAFD, including the installation of GPS devices on rescue vehicles, the replacement of its 911 call center’s faulty dispatch database — which officials said crashed for more than an hour Friday — and fixes to the alarm system that alerts rescuers at the department’s 106 fire stations.
The LAFD is also reworking the way it analyzes its own performance, an effort triggered last year after fire officials admitted to publishing response times that made it appear that rescuers arrived faster than they actually did.
A task force of experts concluded late last year that officials charged with analyzing department data were poorly qualified. Previous LAFD data analysis “should not be relied upon,” the panel said.
L.A. Times investigations found delays in processing 911 calls and summoning the nearest medical rescuers from other jurisdictions, as well as wide gaps in response times in different parts of the city.
Fire Chief Brian Cummings has struggled to restore confidence in his management of the 3,500-employee department.
New Mayor Eric Garcetti is requiring all department managers to reapply for their jobs, including Cummings. Garcetti has said addressing LAFD issues is a top priority for his administration.
During his campaign, Garcetti criticized the fire chief’s leadership, questioned the reasoning behind a recent ambulance staffing plan, disagreed with a plan to restructure the agency’s 911 call center and asked the department to produce a multiyear “restoration plan” that would reverse budget cuts made during the economic downturn.
Earlier this year, Cummings drafted an ambitious plan to seek additional money from the council to restore about 300 agency positions eliminated in recent years. But he quickly withdrew it, saying it needed more work.
Bonin also listed the LAFD as a top concern in an interview with The Times.
“The department has been cutting back and paring back services,” he said. “I am very eager to see that restoration.”
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