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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.

A file photo shows Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics helping a patient on Skid Row. Image Los Angleles Times / Lawrence K. Ho / August 4, 2009)
A file photo shows Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics helping a patient on Skid Row. Image Los Angleles Times / Lawrence K. Ho / August 4, 2009)

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."

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."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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