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L.A. fire chief offers new explanation of response times

Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings

Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings has offered a new explanation of how the department has calculated and presented its emergency response times to city officials. 

Speaking to the Fire Commission on Tuesday, Cummings said the department used computerized projections of response times, instead of actual performance data, in reports about budget cuts given to the Fire Commission and to members of the City Council last year.

Using hypothetical models assuming full staffing, the reports calculated that the Fire Department would have arrived on the scene of medical emergencies within five minutes 79% of the time in 2008. It showed that after the budget cuts, that figure would have fallen to 77%.

In reality, the department met the five-minute goal only 64% of the time in 2008, and now meets it only 60% of the time, according to officials.

The fire chief's statement comes amid heightened scrutiny of the department and its transparency after The Times reported that the department had published figures showing that rescuers were arriving at emergencies faster than they actually were. The department has acknowledged that it had been using a six-minute time frame to calculate responses times, but expressed the results in public reports as being under five minutes.

“I have not been clear in communicating the department’s use of data," Cummings told the commission, which had asked for a report on response times.

Fire Commissioner Genethia Hudley-Hayes said she didn't think the department "intentionally misled anyone." But, she said, "We should have been apprised of the fact that they used projections at one point as opposed to using actual data about what was happening on a day-to-day basis."

The president of the firefighters union claimed the chief has changed his story about how the department calculated and used response times in public presentations.

"Every time the fire chief speaks about response times, his nose grows a little," said Pat McOsker, of United Firefighters of Los Angeles.

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

Photo: At a Fire Commission meeting Tuesday, Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings offered a new explanation of how the department has calculated and presented its emergency response times to city officials. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

 
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