LAFD delays key emergency response reforms
The Los Angeles Fire Department has delayed two reform measures designed to respond to the controversy over its diminished resources and faulty response times, according to LAFD officials at Tuesday’s meeting of the city Fire Commission.
Fire Chief Brian Cummings told the panel he’s pulling back for more study an ambitious plan called for by the City Council that would boost the department’s ranks and aim to lift its sagging response times. At the same meeting, the commissioner leading the overhaul of the LAFD’s faulty data analysis said the effort to put the department’s process on solid footing was behind schedule and would not meet an April deadline.
The department's performance has been under increased scrutiny since last March when fire officials admitted to publishing response times that made it appear rescuers arrived at emergencies faster than they actually did.
A series of Times investigations followed that identified problems or delays in processing 911 calls, summoning the nearest medical rescuers from other jurisdictions as well as wide gaps in response times in different parts of the city.
City Council members, a city audit and an outside expert installed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have all been critical of the department.
Last December, council members Eric Garcetti and Mitch Englander demanded that fire officials appear before the full panel after Cummings failed to produce the multi-year budget plan they had requested earlier in the year to improve service and response times.
The first version of that plan was circulated publicly last week. It called for the restoration of 336 positions trimmed when the department’s budget was cut during the economic downturn.
But Cummings withdrew the plan at Tuesday’s meeting and said another draft may not appear until May.
“I’d like to meet with labor organizations,” Cummings said. “There is a lot of work I’d like to do on this yet.”
An inquiry was launched into the department’s data analysis team after fire officials admitted last year to publishing overstated response times. That task force, overseen by recently appointed Fire Commissioner Alan Skobin, found that fire officials charged with calculating the numbers lacked the necessary skills and concluded that all previous data analysis produced by the department “should not be relied upon.”
The task force hopes to roll out the LAFD’s own version of the LAPD's renowned data analysis system, slated to be called FIRESTATLA. It would allow managers, elected officials and the public access to regularly updated reports on detailed response times and other statistics for the city as a whole and broken down by fire station.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Skobin said the effort would not meet its April deadline. The task force had yet to assemble a complete list of databases maintained by the LAFD, nor had it met with enough department leaders to know the full range of what it hoped to measure, he said.
"We don't want to force it prematurely,” Skobin said.
UPDATE: In an interview with The Times, Skobin said that a website publishing response times for the public was in "beta testing" and would be rolled out in the near future. While he declined to lay out a time table, he said that once the task force receives more information from the department it will push hard to finish developing FIRESTATLA.
"We're moving ahead as far as possible without sacrificing quality," he said. "This will stay on the radar."
-- Ben Welsh
Photo: A captain conducts fire department business operations on the phone in the Los Angeles 911 call center where calls are taken and emergency personnel are dispatched from. (Katie Falkenberg / November 19, 2012)