Audit finds LAFD takes longer on medical calls since budget cuts
The Los Angeles Fire Department is taking longer to get to medical emergencies than it was before budget cuts three years ago, according to a much-anticipated audit of the agency's response times released Friday by City Controller Wendy Greuel.
Greuel's report shows that from early 2007 to mid-2009, a period when the Fire Department was at full deployment, the average response time for medical emergencies was four minutes and 45 seconds. After a series of deep budget cuts that led to shutdowns of ambulances and fire engines at more than a fifth of the city's fire stations, the average time increased by 12 seconds, to four minutes and 57 seconds.
According to Greuel's audit, responses in certain parts of the city rose more than in others. Response times in the San Fernando Valley were the most significantly affected, the audit found, with an increase of over 20 seconds.
The audit also found an increase in 911 call processing time. A Times analysis of Fire Department data published this week found a similar pattern.
Fire Chief Brian Cummings said Friday that he had not had a chance to read Greuel's report. But he said that 911 call processing is "very complex," and thoroughness is key when it comes to answering 911 calls. A department spokesman said he would release a statement addressing the audit's claims later in the day.
Greuel's audit also found major problems with the data the department maintains on emergency responses. Like a report earlier this week by Jeff Godown, an independent analyst brought in by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the wake of controversy over the department's response-time accounting, Greuel's audit found that data was not being consistently and reliably gathered.
City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who appeared alongside Greuel at her news conference, said inconsistencies in the original incident data throw every subsequent analysis off. "Garbage in, garbage out," he said.
Greuel faulted fire officials for undercutting public confidence in the department by producing confusing reports on its performance. "It's unacceptable that the LAFD has not been able to accurately track its emergency response times," she said.
In March, fire officials admitted that they had been releasing data that overstated how fast they arrived at emergencies -- data that was used by city lawmakers when deciding whether to make the steep budget cuts. Fire officials offered revised statistics, but according to Greuel's audit -- and Godown's report -- the new statistics were also flawed.
Greuel's audit contradicts Cummings' assertions that the department has always used consistent methods to analyze its data.
Her audit also found that response times in non-emergency incidents have decreased since the budget cuts. Responses for non-emergency incidents decreased from an average of five minutes and 18 seconds to four minutes and 57 seconds, the audit found. It also found that the department is doing a better job of getting paramedics -- who have more training that emergency medical technicians -- on the scene of emergencies. Response times to fires have remained essentially flat, the audit found.
-- Kate Linthicum at City Hall
Photo: City Controller Wendy Greuel. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times