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City Council committee grills L.A. fire chief

March 23, 2012 |  4:47 pm

Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings at a Fire Commission meeting on Tuesday, Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings faced harsh questioning Friday afternoon at a City Council hearing on the Fire Department's response time controversy.

The Public Safety Committee session came after two weeks of questions and criticism about the agency's performance and transparency.

Cummings has offered shifting accounts of how his agency calculated response times. He blamed discrepancies between some statistics on two different formulas, before offering an explanation that the numbers were projections based on computerized modeling instead of actual performance data.

At the hearing, Councilman Mitchell Englander said he was "even more frustrated than ever" after the chief explained how his agency used simulated data for response times from 2008 through 2010. Those numbers were presented to council members last year as they considered cutting the department's budget, but it was not clear that the figures were projections.

"This is not brain surgery.... We already had the real data. This was never stated clearly. We started with a false base line," said Englander, who chairs the committee.

Cummings, raising his voice slightly, defended the department's methodology. "That was the best we had," he said.

The chief added that the council was made aware last year that the cutbacks would result in longer response times.

"It was clearly stated ... there will be an impact on response times," Cummings told the committee.

Earlier this week, Cummings sparked criticism from council members and the public when he announced that the department had halted a long-standing practice of sending Twitter and email alerts about breaking incidents involving medical emergencies.

The action prompted Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Wednesday to order Cummings to immediately resume releasing the information, saying the department “needs more transparency -– not less.”

On Thursday, the mayor called for six additional ambulances to be put in service and announced that he had appointed Jeff Godown, a former director of the Los Angeles Police Department's high-tech, crime-tracking Compstat Bureau, to oversee the Fire Department’s statistical analysis.

The hearing was still underway Friday afternoon.


Mayor orders fire chief to stop withholding information

L.A. fire chief says altered response standard should have been disclosed

Injured and ailing people wait as dispatch problems slow LAFD responses

-- Kate Linthicum and Robert J. Lopez at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings at a Fire Commission meeting on Tuesday. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times