Angry Villaraigosa slams firefighter union boss
Simmering tensions between Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the head of the city's firefighter union erupted Tuesday during a news conference about Fire Department emergency response times and dispatch systems.
The incident came as Villaraigosa and Fire Chief Brian Cummings met with reporters to discuss questions about the department's emergency response data.
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 has been using a new formula that showed that rescuers actually arrived on scene within five minutes about 64% of the time.
Cummings and Villaraigosa insisted that the data was accurate and that public safety had not been compromised by the reduction of fire engines and ambulances at more than one-fifth of the city's 106 fire stations.
But Pat McOsker, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, had passed out a letter to reporters accusing the department and Villaraigosa of knowingly using "false statistics" to justify budget cuts that resulted in the public "being put in peril."
DOCUMENT: Firefighters' union letter
As the mayor and chief took questions, a reporter began reading from McOsker's letter. Villaraigosa interrupted the reporter.
"I wish you could take a picture of him. He's smiling the whole time," the mayor said as he looked toward McOsker, who was behind a row of journalists and television cameras.
"It's an outrageous letter," Villaraigosa said. "It is a reflection of the lack of leadership in that union for him to say the kinds of things that he did, because he knows it's not true."
Three years ago, as the union was in contract talks with the city, the group's members put up signs at firehouses across the city saying that the public was being put at risk by a plan backed by Villaraigosa to shut down fire engines and ambulances citywide on a rotating basis.
The mayor referred to the signs as he lashed out at McOsker during the news conference.
"He's the same guy," the mayor said, "that put up posters telling people that they were going to die."
After the news conference, McOsker said the mayor overreacted.
"He let his emotions get the best of him," McOsker told The Times. "It wasn't very professional. I think we should focus on public safety and not on the personality clash."
--Robert J. Lopez and Kate Linthicum
Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and city Fire Chief Brian Cummings at press conference. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times