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L.A. fire chief: Response-time changes should have been disclosed

March 13, 2012 |  1:28 pm

FireResponeTimes

Los Angeles city Fire Chief Brian Cummings acknowledged Tuesday that the Fire Department should have said sooner that it had changed the way it calculated emergency response times.

"Potentially, we should have put down that we changed our method," Cummings said. "We should have done that."

In several reports to lawmakers last year, the department included old data that made it appear that its personnel were getting to medical emergencies faster than they actually were. The old data showed that first responders arrived at the scene of a medical emergency within five minutes nearly 80% of the time. But since 2009, the department had been using a new formula that showed that rescuers actually arrived on scene within five minutes about 64% of the time.

The rosier data was used last year as the City Council weighed budget cuts that called for the reduction of fire engines and ambulances at more than one-fifth of the city's stations. After The Times reported that the department had been putting out misleading performance data for years, several council members said they were concerned that they had made cuts based on bad information. Several called for audits of the department's response times.

After a news conference with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a downtown fire station, Cummings told reporters the department should have acknowledged that it was using data that it had deemed outdated.

He and Villaraigosa also discussed recent problems with the department's call-dispatching process. Some aging equipment has been malfunctioning in recent weeks, they said, causing firefighters to rely on a backup system.

For a short time, Cummings said, "the calls were not reaching fire stations." He said only two calls were significantly affected by the breakdown, and said nobody had died as a result.

The news -- and the flap over the department's statistics -- comes amid new scrutiny of the department and how it has been affected by deep budget cuts in recent years.

Response times have gone up slightly since the cuts were first put in place in 2009, according to the department's new data. But Cummings and Villaraigosa said the increases had been minimal, and tied partly to an increase in call load.

"The city of Los Angeles is safe," Villaraigosa said. He said that, financially, the city had to make the cuts. "We're trying to live within our means," he said.

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-- Robert Lopez and Kate Linthicum

twitter.com/katelinthicum

Photo: Los Angeles city Fire Chief Brian Cummings speaks at a news conference with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a downtown fire station. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

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