No progress on LAFD 911 response times, new data show

Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas has said speeding up the LAFD's response to 911 calls for help is a top priority of his administration.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Waits for 911 medical help in Los Angeles have increased slightly this year, signaling no measurable progress toward Mayor Eric Garcetti’s campaign pledge to speed up Fire Department responses to emergencies, according to city statistics released Thursday.

Garcetti presented the new figures at an afternoon news conference in which he and Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas praised LAFD efforts to overhaul how the agency gauges its performance.

The new numbers come from a program dubbed FireStatLA, which is being billed as the cornerstone of a 2-year-old reform effort. It began after LAFD officials admitted issuing faulty reports that made it appear the department was performing better than it was.


The ensuing controversy sparked a bevy of investigations, pledges to improve 911 service from candidates in last year’s mayoral contest and the early retirement of Brian Cummings as fire chief after Garcetti took office.

Garcetti said the new information-gathering system is the foundation of changes to come. “Now we can look people in the eye and say this is real,” he told reporters.

He said the FireStat program will help increase accountability, improve decision-making and lead to better allocation of personnel and equipment. As a result, Garcetti said he expects to begin trimming tens of seconds off response times in the coming year.

The new statistics, available on a station-by-station basis on the LAFD’s website, followed months of work by outside experts and a newly hired civilian statistician at LAFD.

Taken together the new statistics estimate it takes, on average, a little more than six minutes and 30 seconds from the moment a 911 call is answered at the LAFD’s call center downtown until the first unit arrives at a medical emergency citywide. That number ticked upward by several seconds in 2014, the new data show.

Average 911 wait times are significantly longer in some parts of the city, according to the data, particularly in the winding roads of the Santa Monica Mountains and in the narrow strip of the city that stretches from South Los Angeles down to San Pedro. At Fire Station 109, perched on Mulholland Drive south of Encino, firefighters needed three minutes more, on average, to arrive at the scene.

Those findings confirm independent studies conducted by The Times in 2012.

“It depends where you are,” said veteran firefighter Steve Tufts. “When we’re not there in three minutes, there’s a reason for it. It’s no fault of the firemen. It’s the distance from the station. Or they are out on another call.”

Garcetti partially echoed that view Thursday. “We we will never have the same response time throughout the entire city,” he said. “But we can reduce response times everywhere.”

Officials said they are sharing the new response time analysis with rank-and-file firefighters at fire station meetings, with an eye toward identifying ways to improve performance.

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