A newly-released examination of how the LA Fire Department handles emergency calls shows the department sometimes exceeds ideal response times because of traffic, a few neighborhoods in need of dedicated fire stations, and a lack of personnel.
The “Standards of Cover” analysis looked at data collected between 2018 and 2020 to help fire administrators forecast needs for hiring and resources. The findings will form the basis for requesting new money for the department, beyond its existing $900 million-plus annual budget.
The report also found that 911 calls are dispatched very quickly, firefighters are able to dress and leave their stations rapidly, and most stations are well-positioned to provide coverage to most of the city.
“Where we are at our weakest, we are killing our people, way overworking our people, at rates that surprised a lot of us,” LAFD Deputy Chief David Perez told the Board of Fire Commissioners during a discussion of the report’s recommendations in Downtown LA Tuesday.
The analysis said firefighters and paramedics at some of the busiest stations get little rest during 24-hour shifts because of constant emergency calls, and showed it takes too long for engines and ambulances to reach the scenes of emergencies in some parts of the City.
“I think we knew most of the things they told us,” Commission president Jimmie Woods-Gray said of the report. “But to be able to ask for money, to get a bond started, or any other kind of fees, or ask City Council for more money, we still need to have the data,” she told the I-Team.
United Firefighters of LA City, the union that represents most of the city’s firefighters, said the report failed to emphasize that the city needs to hire many more new firefighters, and complained the union was largely excluded from the analysis of the department’s performance.
“That report has absolutely no blueprint on what to do, how to do it, and it doesn’t reflect the City of Los Angeles,” UFLAC president Freddy Escobar told the I-Team.
Escobar said the fire department can only function today because it spends an extraordinary amount on overtime, paying members of the existing staff to work additional 24-hour shifts each month. The government salary tracker TransparentCalifornia.com recently reported that city pay records showed more than 80 LAFD employees earned more than $400,000 last year by working numerous overtime shifts.
He said LAFD staffing hasn’t expanded much in decades, even though the city’s population has increased and demands for emergency medical services have exploded, with more than 390,000 calls in 2020 alone.
“Today, our members that we represent at UFLAC are doing more with less, we have [fewer] members than we had 30 years ago,” Escobar said.
The LA City Council’s Public Safety Committee was expected to consider the findings next week.