LAFD admits exaggerating response times

Department statisticians have been calculating responses using 6-minute formula, even though federal guidelines use 5-minute standard

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Fire Department has been releasing data that make it look like firefighters were responding more quickly than they actually were, the agency's top officials admitted Friday.

Department statisticians have been calculating responses using a six-minute formula, even though federal guidelines use a different standard requiring that first responders arrive in less than five minutes 90 percent of the time, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The exposure came when local mayoral candidate Austin Beutner wrote an online column blaming his opponents for budget cuts affecting fire service.

The flawed data said that in 2008, the department responded to medical emergencies within five minutes 86 percent of the time. In 2011, after the recent budget cuts, the department met that standard only 59 percent of the time.

Corrected data shows that the department actually hit the five-minute goal only 64 percent of the time in 2008 and 60 percent of the time in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A former department statistician, retired Capt. Billy Wells, said he followed the department's longstanding tradition of using a six-minute response standard.

The statistician after him, Capt. Mark Woolf, said he continued using that formula for a while.

"I didn't want to touch that [extra] minute because I knew the data would take a dump," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Pat McOsker, president of the local firefighters union, complained of his members being run ragged, aging dispatch equipment and a rise in units trying to respond to emergencies at the same time in the same station area. Fire Chief Brian Cummings has promised to shift some apparatus around next month, but McOsker doesn't think that is the solution.

"The way to solve this problem is to reopen resources, not to reshuffle the deck," he said. "We're not giving people the best chance to survive these things."

Fire Chief Brian Cummings said his department's performance has only increased by a few seconds — still pretty good, considering the 16 percent budget reduction it has seen recently.

"I need the public to be reassured that we're going to get there and get there in a timely matter," he said.

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