Los Angeles city leaders should reverse budget cuts made to the Fire Department during the economic downturn and enact a sweeping series of reforms to the department’s 911 call center, the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury said Friday in its final report.
The grand jury recommended that the LAFD’s funding be reinstated to 2008 levels, called for replacing the firefighters who answer 911 calls with lower-skilled civilians and suggested an overhaul of the department’s computer systems.
Those changes, the panel concluded, could help the department save lives by reducing the time it takes to get to the scene of an emergency. The department’s 911 response times have been widely criticized since fire officials admitted last year to overstating the figures, making it appear rescuers arrived faster than they actually did.
“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 “Once funding of the LAFD was reduced, based in part on faulty or outdated data, response times began to rise.”
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.
Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings has struggled to restore confidence in his management of the 3,500-employee department since the admission of faulty response times.
A 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-elect Eric Garcetti has said all department managers will have to reapply for their jobs after he takes office July 1, including Cummings. Garcetti has listed addressing the LAFD as one of his top priorities.
During his campaign, Garcetti criticized the fire chief’s leadership, questioned the reasoning behind a 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 jury.
Earlier this year, Cummings drafted an ambitious plan to seek additional funding from the City Council to restore about 300 agency positions eliminated in recent years. But he quickly withdrew it, saying it needed more work.