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Mayor seeks new LAFD ambulances, expert to review response times

March 22, 2012 |  7:50 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Fire Chief Brian Cummings at a March 13 press conference to discuss unit response times. Credit: Barbara Davidson / The Los Angeles Times

Seeking to bolster public confidence in how the Los Angeles Fire Department responds to emergencies and handles data, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has called on the City Council to dip into budget reserves to pay for six additional rescue ambulances and has announced that he wants to install a nationally recognized expert in statistics to oversee the agency’s accounting of its performance.

In a letter to the council sent late Thursday, Villaraigosa characterized as “untenable” recent confusion over how fast fire units respond to emergencies. “We must take immediate steps to rectify it,” he said.

Controversy over department response times erupted two weeks ago after fire officials admitted that for years they had been putting out performance data that made it appear that they were getting to emergencies faster than they actually were. To help quell growing concerns among the public and lawmakers, Villaraigosa on Thursday directed Fire Chief Brian Cummings to appoint a new head of the department’s statistical analysis office.

Jeff Godown, the former director of the Los Angeles Police Department's COMPSTAT Bureau, is “a nationally recognized expert in data management,” Villaraigosa wrote. Godown will be instructed to report his initial findings about the department’s data analysis within 30 days.

Villaraigosa also called on the council to grant a Fire Department request for six additional ambulances. They would be paid for with money from the city’s reserve fund.

In recent years, at the mayor’s directive, council members have trimmed more than 15% from the Fire Department’s budget, cuts that led to the removal from service of firetrucks and ambulances at more than one-fifth of the city’s 106 stations. The removals have been unpopular among some firefighters and community members, who say response times have gone up as a result.

Adding to the scrutiny of the department in recent weeks were reports that its dispatch system has been malfunctioning since late February. The problems led to delayed responses in at least several calls across the city, The Times found.

Villaraigosa also directed Deputy Mayor of Homeland Security and Public Safety Eileen Decker to procure money to fix the dispatching system problems. He also directed her to “identify the top technological needs of the department, including critical software upgrades, key radio communications infrastructure, and replacement of the Computer Aided Dispatch system.”

“We need an emergency response system that is reliable and accountable,” Villaraigosa wrote. “We need monitoring procedures to ensure that all response time data are accurate, and transparent. It is paramount that the Department maintains the public trust.”

The mayor also named Alan Skobin to an empty spot on the Fire Commission. Skobin served on the Police Commission for nine years.

On Friday, the council’s Public Safety Committee has planned a special meeting to discuss the recent controversies at the Fire Department.

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-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Fire Chief Brian Cummings at a March 13 news  conference to discuss unit response times. Credit: Barbara Davidson / The Los Angeles Times

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