LAFD plan to add 6 ambulances is a 'Band-Aid,' councilman says
A Los Angeles Fire Department plan to put six ambulances back in service to help improve lagging response times amounts to less than a "Band-Aid" fix to the agency’s needs, a City Council member said Monday.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for the ambulances to be restored to service last month after fire officials acknowledged that the time it takes the rescuers to get to victims in medical emergencies had fallen below nationally accepted standards.
Assistant Fire Chief David Yamahata on Monday told the council's Budget and Finance Committee that the six ambulances would begin operating Sunday. But the units would be in service only 12 hours a day and would not be staffed with paramedics, he said.
Councilman Mitchell Englander responded that firefighters have told him the additional ambulances might not have any effect in improving the department’s citywide response time.
"This is not even a Band-Aid fix," Englander said. "It's barely that, from what I've heard from firefighters."
In recent weeks, fire officials were forced to acknowledge that they had been publishing reports for the public and city leaders showing that rescuers were arriving to medical emergencies faster than they actually were. The disclosures and controversy prompted Villaraigosa to call for the six ambulances to help restore public confidence in the beleaguered agency.
LAFD data controversy timeline
In an interview after the council hearing, Yamahata acknowledged that the six ambulances would not have a major effect citywide in helping rescuers get to victims quicker during medical emergencies. Firefighters respond to tens of thousands of medical emergencies each month.
"We would like to restore all our resources," Yamahata said.
The department's budget has been slashed by more than 15% over the last three years, resulting in fire engines and ambulances being permanently closed at firehouses across the city.
Yamahata said the department examined factors including the number of emergency calls and response times in deciding where to put the six ambulances. They will go into service at fire stations in Little Tokyo, Hollywood, Canoga Park, Sun Valley, Van Nuys and the Sawtelle neighborhood.
Fire officials also said Monday that budget cuts have hampered operations at the agency's understaffed repair shop, which has a backlog of hundreds of work orders. Only 71 of the shop's 84 positions are filled, officials said.
Assistant Fire Chief Assistant Fire Chief Tony Varela said the department was behind its schedule in buying 15 new aerial ladder trucks and 30 smaller fire engines. As a result, he said, the agency has been forced to outfit aging vehicles with new transmissions and other parts to keep them running.
— Robert J. Lopez
Photo: LAFD engineer Ron Tomacruz in 2009 holds traffic in front of Station 39 in Van Nuys to allow a firetruck to back into a station. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times