City Council to Grill LAFD Chief About Slow Response Times

LAFD officials admitted reporting inaccurate response-time data that inflated the department's success.

Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings is scheduled to go before the City Council Tuesday to answer questions about what his department is doing to reduce response times to fires and medical emergencies.

The appearance will be the latest chapter in a tangle between the council and the department that dates back to March, when LAFD officials admitted reporting inaccurate response-time data that inflated the department's success in meeting national response goals. Subsequent reports and an audit by the city controller found significant flaws in the way LAFD officials analyzed and reported response times.

Cummings has apologized for the misinformation but has also defended his department's public safety performance under severe budget constraints, including a $54 million budget cut in 2011 that forced the elimination of 18 fire companies.

Cummings faced particular scorn from Councilman Bill Rosendahl and former Councilwoman Janice Hahn for eliminating companies near fire-prone hillside communities on the Westside and in the South Bay, where oil refineries and other heavy industry pose potential fire hazards.

Various council members have pushed Cummings this year to take steps to better track and analyze response time data and to draft a plan for providing better fire and emergency medical service.  Last month, Councilmen Eric Garcetti and Mitch Englander lashed out at Cummings for not responding.

"The department's managers are either unable or unwilling to do their job to reduce response times and make L.A. safer," Garcetti said. "It's outrageous, and I demand they answer publicly to the people of Los Angeles."

Garcetti, who is running for mayor, and Englander, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, introduced a motion ordering the department's leadership and its recently created Task Force on Information and Data Analysis to explain themselves to the full City Council Tuesday.

Cummings in July convened the IDA task force to help restore the department's reputation by having objective experts in data analysis study the LAFD's data collection and analysis procedures. The IDA included data experts from the RAND Corp., USC and the Los Angeles Police Department, as well as sworn and civilian LAFD members.

The task force's first major report, released last month, found that a lack of training and the department's 30-year-old computer-assisted dispatch system were among the main factors that led the department to report false response times.

The task force's trained experts found that in September, LAFD personnel met national response time standards 60.9 percent of the time for emergency medical calls and 61.3 percent of the time for fires, far below the 90 percent goal of the National Fire Protection Association, which is embraced by the LAFD.

Garcetti said the council acted to minimize severe budget cuts to the Fire Department in recent years, including the elimination of more than 300 firefighter positions.

"The council has acted. The department's managers haven't," he said last month. "I would expect the Fire Department's brass to be first through the door when it comes to public safety."

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