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Los Angeles Fire Department Faces Heat For Slower Emergency Response Times, Faulty Data

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LOS ANGELES FIRE DEPARTMENT
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More than a year after the Los Angeles Fire Department was faulted for slower emergency response times and faulty response data, Fire Chief Brian Cummings acknowledged Tuesday his agency needs to develop a full, transparent plan to deal with the issues.

Over a two-hour session before the City Council, Cummings said earlier figures on response times were incorrect and the department is in the process of analyzing how it tracks both medical and fire emergency responses.

"I am not going to let this go," Councilman Eric Garcetti said to Cummings. "This is a difficult conversation to have. I like you as a person, but you are the chief and I want you to answer these questions that came out of my own frustration about getting the data and what do we do to move forward.

"We don't need finger-pointing and we don't need to be defensive, but we need to have action and we need it now."

Cummings and the department have been under criticism for the lags in response times across the city, the inaccurate data provided to officials and the potential threat to public safety.

To resolve those issues, Cummings created a task force that included officials from the Santa Monica-based RAND think tank, the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies familiar with computer-aided dispatching systems and emergency response.

RAND has said it will seek grants to allow it to continue its work at no cost to the city, Cummings said.

The task force came up with 17 recommendations to implement in the coming months -- on everything from providing more information to the public on response times around the city to development of the proposed FireStat program.

Cummings said the biggest problem with the response time has been the cuts to the department budget -- more than $89 million that resulted in the loss of more than 300 firefighters.

"The simple answer is money," Cummings said. "If you give us the money, we can get more people and we can give you the fire service you want."

The department this past year saw its budget increased by $40 million and it has requested an additional $50 million next year, which would enable it to hire its first class of new recruits in several years.

Councilman Mitch Englander, who also has been critical of the department, said he does not believe the agency recognizes the seriousness of the issue and has shown "an unwillingness to fix response data."

"This is just another example of kicking the can down the road," Englander said. "The city controller conducted an audit showing the LAFD used an outdated, nonverifiable system."

Controller Wendy Greuel said the council was missing an opportunity to force the department to change.

"Over six months ago, I released an audit which called the Fire Department to task on how to improve tracking response times so they can better allocate resources," Greuel said.

"This type of response from the council today is a day late and a dollar short. The discussion is long overdue and must be a top priority."

Greuel said the department should be able to accurately track its data, despite cuts in funding.

City Administrative Office Miguel Santana said he is working to hire a consultant for the department to assist in developing a three- to five-year implementation plan.

Cummings and the department also came under fire Tuesday for an incident involving a hula dancer -- wearing high heels and short shorts -- who filmed a short video using Fire Department uniforms and equipment at Venice Fire Station 63.

The video, called Firehouse Burlesque, also shows several firefighters watching the dance.

Cummings said he has referred the matter to the LAFD's Professional Standards Bureau to pursue.

"I would be inappropriate for me to comment on this while it is under investigation," Cummings said.

The issue is particularly sensitive to the department because last year it faced criticism after firefighters at the same Venice station allowed one of their trucks to be used in a 2008 porn film shoot.

rick.orlov@dailynews.com

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