Mar 20 2012

Civic Circus on the LA Fire Department

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Civic Circus Civic Circus with Ankur Patel breaks down local politics, with a weekly report on city, county, and state bureaucracies.This week on Uprising, I’m going to get into details about how we were purposely mislead about the response times of the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD).

That’s Right, after a California Public Records Act Request filed by a community group called Fix The City, it has become front page news that LAFD’s reported response times have been falsified for years. The excuse of using alternative response time measures is worse than political double talk. You call, they show up, how long did it take?

Anecdotally, we have Tania Wafer who lost her finger because it took the LAFD 45 minutes to respond to a call because the local station was never alerted; part of the ongoing problems that the Fire Department has had with its computer dispatch system.

Fire Chief Brian Cummings and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were doing damage control, claiming that the system works 99% of the time and no one died during the system breakdown on March 7th that caused Tania’s finger to be lost. But the system breakdown on March 2nd did lead to a slower response that probably contributed to the deaths of 2 people in a South LA fire. Damage control for city politicians in this case means making sure people don’t know what happened.

Bob Ashley, a dispatcher who has been with the department for 25 years, said that after several computer crashes in recent weeks, he and his colleagues tracked the availability of fire engines and ambulances with a peg board and golf tees.

When 16 year olds at private high schools have GPS and GIS on their mobile phones, and our firefighters and dispatchers are using a peg board and golf tees to track fire engines and ambulances – it would be funny if this wasn’t literally a life and death situation.
The fire department has had to expend emergency funds to fix the glitches in their computer systems while the $78,000,000 Information and Technology Department doesn’t even involve itself in other departments’ problems.

Which goes back to the point of why we were lied to in the first place: we were supposed to believe that budget cuts had no affect on the response times of the fire department, which allowed the politicians to justify the huge cuts made to the fire department. The LAFD is politically weak compared to the LAPD, the LADWP, or big money developers.

But to focus on the purposely misleading statements of our public officials, the response times for fire engines and ambulances has gone up across the board since the new deployment plan was instituted. For years, fire officials published statistics that showed they were responding to medical emergencies faster than they actually were.

Now that the politicians have been caught using false data to make decisions, they are calling for audits. The fact of the matter is that there must have been more than elbow nudges and winks, the public was purposely mislead so that the 4 billion dollar city budget could continue to be the playground for the politically connected.

If the response times are bad, that is one thing, but to purposely mislead the public into thinking we are safer than we are, has to do with more than the budget. It is indicative of the lack of respect that our government has for the people that it is supposed to represent.

What’s more dangerous? Fires or Liars?

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