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Home > Topics > EMS Management

Report: LAFD needs major 911 overhaul

The report criticizes LAFD leaders; proposes partnering with civilian ambulances and replacing 200 firefighter positions with civilians

By Robert J. Lopez and Ben Welsh
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A private consulting report released Monday calls for sweeping changes to the Los Angeles Fire Department, including an overhaul of how the agency handles 911 calls and responds to hundreds of thousands of medical rescues each year.

The recommendations include filling nearly 200 positions now held by sworn firefighters with civilians, including employees working in the LAFD’s 911 call center. Consolidating the emergency call center with one operated by the police department also should be considered, the report says.

The report, prepared at the direction of the City Council, called for longer-term actions, such as closing less-busy firehouses during slow hours and replacing heavy fire engines with lighter-weight vehicles when responding to medical emergencies, which account for more than 80% of calls for help. 

The city should also conduct a pilot program with civilian ambulances transporting victims to hospitals, similar to the model used by the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the report said.

Together, the changes could improve service, control costs and make better use of existing fire resources, the consultants found.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he already is moving on some of the ideas, such as merging the LAFD's dispatch operations with the LAPD's. But he has said that other recommendations are impractical, at least in the near term.

"Mayor Garcetti will look at this report and see what would support his reform agenda," said spokesman Yusef Robb.

The study adds to pressure to reform the LAFD, which has struggled to emerge from a series of controversies over its 911 call handling, response times, discrimination lawsuits and hiring practices.

Some of the suggested changes are sure to face political headwinds at City Hall.

Capt. Frank Lima, the president of the union that represents rank-and-file firefighters, said his organization had to yet to fully digest the report, but he described some of the proposals as  “non starters” that his organization had opposed in the past.

“On first blush, I don’t like it,” Lima said. He said the union was not properly consulted during the report’s preparation.

“It’s like doing a review of the game of baseball and not talking to any baseball players and just talking to managers and sportswriters who didn’t play the game,” he said.

The authors of the report said the union declined to participate.

The report harshly criticizes LAFD leaders, saying they have fostered a “cultural aversion to change,” communicated poorly with the public and failed to adopt cutting-edge technology to improve performance.

“There is a lack of accountability, engagement and community presence from the current command,” said the report, which was prepared by PA Consulting and presented to City Administrative Officer Miguel A. Santana, the city's top budget official.

The study lauded the LAFD's firefighting performance, saying the agency is exceptional at limiting losses compared with other fire agencies. But it also found "significant cultural, organizational, process and technology challenges which seriously impair the department's performance."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
The consulting report, like other studies over the last decade, takes aim at the Fire Department's discipline process, calling it "cumbersome, unwieldy and ineffective" and a potential "threat to both performance and safety."

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Richard Broberg Richard Broberg Tuesday, March 04, 2014 4:51:28 PM I recall several years ago LAFD had to brown out units due to budget problems. The fire union was screaming that people were going to die due to a shortage of ambulances. Of course if they were really concerned about people dying they would have called upon the hundreds of private ambulances in that city to help out. But no. Let's use scare tactics to bully the public onto continuing to pay huge fire fighter salaries.
James D Sena James D Sena Tuesday, March 04, 2014 5:34:35 PM So what do you think are huge Firefighter's salaries? Hrm? How about $53,000 a year to start. That isn't huge. Is it better than an EMT will make with a private company (EMT license is required to apply with LAFD) Yes, but that is because most ambulance services don't pay shit considering the responsibilities involved. (LAFD IS one of the highest paid departments, right after FDNY. Then again look what it costs to live there). (The average new hire Firefighter / EMT in this country makes around $45,000 a year) Persona;;y I would like to see the elimination of private ambulance services in most areas. But then I also of the opinion that paid departments should have a minimum of 4 Firefighters on every Engine (There are studies on safety and efficiency that show get under 4 on an engine and you compromise both safety and efficiency) with a separate 2 for every ambulance. As long as there are private ambulance services there needs to be oversight on working conditions. 24+ hour shifts are total BULLSHIT, which endangers Emts / Paramedics AND patients. As long as there ARE private ambulance services however, they should be able to be utilized the same as Fire Department ambulances. Maybe you want to prioritize to one over the other, but you should be able to make sensible decisions (stacking calls for a FD Ambulance and not being able to call on privates for backup is not sensible). Everybody of a license level should be able to do the same thing after all, But an ALS rig is an ALS rig is an ALS rig if your jurisdiction enforces standards. Now if you want to save money, maybe you tweak Engine / Truck / Ambulance replacement schedules. (NFPA says an Engine / Tender / Ladder truck gets 10 years front line 10 years reserve. When a ladder truck costs $1,000,000 , that means just the purchase cost is $50,000 a year! now buy 5 a year as they rotate out ....). Of course that means you have to MAINTAIN things better ...
Dana Arbeit Dana Arbeit Wednesday, March 05, 2014 12:12:11 PM This kind of study has happened before in LAFD. When I was on the job(25 yrs single-function Paramedic on the ambulance) I remember one study that had similar recommendations and the legendary first response from the then Chief Engineer was: "you want to change things?". As far as the 'nuts and bolts' of the changes needed, I think all options should be on the table so to speak. When it comes to the "culture" of LAFD, I remember when first on the job, the FFs calling us on the ambulance "pukes" and whining every time they had to respond on an EMS call. Twenty-five years later, when I was retireing, it had barely changed. There may have been more change since then(11 years ago now) as the Dept. had eliminated the non-FF entry position so new hires have to be FF first(this "consolidation" also severely limited the number of females that were able to get on the job as most of the women on LAFD, at the time, were on the ambulances). Regarding the private ambulance use idea, the Dept. actually did a "test" for 6 months of having a contract with private amb. to allow the FD amb. to request the private rig to transport non-emergency patients. Everyone involved gave the program positive feedback and the FD managers ended the test and we never heard anything more about it. As the years went on, the Dept. kept getting more ambulances and used them to get FF-EMTs overtime. For most of that time, the FFs(they had finally all been trained/certified to EMT-I FS level) were not assigned to a regular ambulance position but whoever was working from out-of-house or off-shift got "stuck" on the ambulance that day. Obviously that didn't make for happy or motivated EMTs on the ambulance. Sometimes we would call them out to transport a non-emergency patient so our Paramedic ambulance could be availble and they would still whine about having to handle a patient. This attitude was conditioned into the new FFs as soon as they entered the job. LAFD had a cultural bias against doing EMS. I remember one FF complaining about sending a fire apparatus on EMS calls and I agreed with him. My idea was sending the two FF/EMTs in a squad style truck and leave the Capt. and Engineer in the station with the fire truck. It reads like this study is suggesting something similar. LAFD still maintains 'two-piece engine companies' with the second engine staffed only by an Engineer. These companies are in 'Task Force' houses with a Ladder Truck. When there is a major fire, one sees lots of fire apparatus parked down some side street as all they did was bring personnel to the incident. That's millions of dollars of equipment that seldom gets used for its original purpose. I don't claim to know the answers but I do know that things have to change to a more efficient model and LAFD doesn't like to change. It truly is "over 120 years of tradition unhampered by progress".
Scott Darby Scott Darby Sunday, April 13, 2014 1:28:29 AM There is no such thing as a "huge firefighter salary". They certainly deserve that, but it does not exist anywhere.

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