The Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to temporarily continue staffing ambulances added to the Fire Department fleet earlier this year -- although it is unclear how the cost will be covered.
Fire Chief Brian Cummings says more ambulances are necessary to handle an increasing number of requests for medical help, which now account for more than 80% of 911 calls. In May, Cummings added 11 ambulances by reassigning one firefighter per shift from 22 firetrucks across the city.
That decision was challenged by labor groups and some members of the city Fire Commission, who criticized the fire chief’s plan as poorly prepared, and expressed concern that the change could put firefighters at greater risk. In response, the City Council found money to avoid the shift by staffing the ambulances through the end of June with $1.6 million in overtime pay.
On Friday, that stop-gap measure was extended until the end of July by allowing the department to spend beyond its current budget, which council members said could be fixed in the coming months. The measure, they argued, would buy time for themselves and mayor-elect Eric Garcetti to hammer out a long-term solution.
Garcetti, who has said all department managers will have to reapply for their jobs after he takes office July 1, 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 his ambulance shift, disagreed with a plan to restructure the agency’s 911 call center and asked the department to produce a multi-year “restoration plan” to broadly reshape the department.
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. The sudden plan to shift firefighters from trucks to ambulances soon followed.
The fire chief has struggled to restore confidence in his management of the 3,500-employee department after fire officials admitted last year that they overstated response times, making it appear rescuers arrived faster to emergencies than they actually did. 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. In recent weeks he has faced increased criticism from the city Fire Commission and a harsh audit from the agency’s top watchdog.