A plan to add 11 ambulances to the Los Angeles Fire Department service by taking firefighters from light and tactical forces will begin on May 5 in what officials described as a major shift in how the department responds to incidents.
At the same time, Fire Chief Brian Cummings was urged by the Fire Commission to improve his communications with the labor groups in his department, which vehemently oppose that could reduce firefighter staffing from five to four on the light force trucks.
Cummings wants to start the program on a six-month pilot basis to determine how effectively it works and as a way to reduce response times.
A final review of the plan before it takes effect is scheduled for today when the City Council's Public Safety Committee is briefed by Cummings on it.
When leaders of the Chief Officers Association and the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City complained they had not been given time to meet with Cummings, Fire Commission President Genethia Hayes asked: "Are we all in the same department?"
Andy Fox, president of the Chief Officers Association, said they would like to develop an alternative to the Cummings proposal, but had not been provided any data or a written report.
"Without that data, we are unable to come up with an alternative," Fox said.
UFLAC President Frank Lima said his concern is both the public and firefighter safety.
The two held a press conference at the site of a recent North Hollywood fire where one person died.
"That was with full staffing," Lima said. "Imagine what could happen if we had one less firefighter available."
Cummings said he was instituting the program to respond to the high number of emergency medical calls, which account for 84 percent of all calls to the department. He said it is hoped the program will reduce the need for larger fire equipment to be sent and free up the department's paramedics who are assigned to advance life support ambulances.
Commissioner Alan Skobin suggested the department looked at ways to trim the number of calls it receives by weeding out those that are not life-threatening, similar to what the Los Angeles Police Department did when it stopped responding to burglar alarms.
Cummings said he did not want to implement the change, but it became a question of budgeting.
"If the City Council would give me $11 million tomorrow, I would pull this back," Cummings said. "My responsibility is to make sure we respond to the public as quickly and as safely as we can."
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