A newly seated Los Angeles city councilman has called for the city Fire Department to respond to a sweeping set of reforms recommended last week by the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury.
The grand jury’s final report, released Friday, argued for fully reversing budget cuts made to the LAFD during the economic downturn, replacing the firefighters who answer 911 calls with lower-skilled civilians and overhauling the department’s computer systems.
Councilman Gil Cedillo made a motion Tuesday requesting that the LAFD and top city budget officials report to the council’s Public Safety Committee on the grand jury’s findings, which have already drawn a mixed reaction from the union that represents rank-and-file firefighters.
The civil grand jury is made up of 23 appointees who serve a one-year term. It cannot make criminal charges but acts as a watchdog and presents its findings to government officials and the public. As part of its work, members inspected four L.A. County 911 call centers, including the one operated by the LAFD, crunched response time data and interviewed senior leaders from the area’s largest departments, the report said.
The grand jury’s investigation was started after LAFD officials admitted last year to overstating response times, making it appear rescuers arrived faster than they actually did.
Major changes are needed, the grand jury concluded, to help the department save lives by reducing the time it takes to get to the scene of an emergency.
“There have been cases where a person has died while waiting for the medical personnel to arrive,” the jury wrote. “Once funding of the LAFD was reduced, based in part on faulty or outdated data, response times began to rise.”
United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, which represents city firefighters including the staff at the 911 dispatch center, said it welcomed the grand jury’s call to reinvest in the department but strongly disagreed with any move to have civilians answer 911 calls.
Earlier this year, Fire Chief Brian 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. He followed that with a sudden, controversial plan to shift 22 firefighters per shift to staff 11 additional ambulances.
Cummings has struggled to restore confidence in his management of the 3,500-employee department since the admission of faulty response times.
A separate task force of experts concluded late last year that fire officials charged with crunching numbers were poorly qualified and previous departmental data analysis “should not be relied upon.”
Subsequent 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.
Mayor Eric Garcetti has said all department managers will have to reapply for their jobs, including Cummings. Garcetti has listed addressing the LAFD as one of his top priorities and interviews will begin July 8, according to the mayor’s spokesman, Yusef Robb.
During his campaign, Garcetti criticized the fire chief’s leadership, questioned the reasoning behind the recent ambulance shift, disagreed with a separate plan to restructure the agency’s 911 call center and asked the department to produce a multi-year “restoration plan” like the one recommended by the grand jury.
Garcetti also has opposed replacing the firefighters who staff the LAFD’s call center with civilians, a practice employed by many other departments, including the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
“I would much rather have someone at the dispatch center who has the experience of being on the scene and in the field than civilians who have never been in a fire truck,” he told The Times in a written questionnaire.