The City Council's Public Safety Committee spent three hours today grilling Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Brian Cummings about the department's response times.
The special meeting focusing on the Fire Department followed two weeks of news reports highlighting discrepancies in how the LAFD reported response times last year as city officials considered cutting the department's budget.
Councilman Mitch Englander, who chairs the committee, expressed frustration the department was not transparent, during last year's budget cycle, about reporting computer modeled data rather than actual response times from previous years.
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The computer projected response times appeared better than the actual times, because modeling software assumes the most optimal conditions, such as all firefighting trucks and ambulances being in stations and ready to be deployed.
"This, to me, is not brain surgery," Englander told the fire chief. "This makes no sense ... That modeling was done for past performance when we had the real data. So we started with a false baseline."
Cummings gave his strongest defense of the department since questions were raised about its presentation of response times.
"It was clearly stated at the time by the (previous) fire chief, there will be an impact on response times. Less is gonna be less," Cummings said. "However, given the resources that the department was given, this deployment plan, using the modeling, was the best deployment of the resources we were given."
Given the size of Los Angeles -- 464 square miles -- Cummings told the committee the city would have to open 89 new fire stations in order to hit a national recommendation of being under four minutes of travel time to medical emergencies 90 percent of the time.
Cummings reassured the committee that he is complying with City Controller Wendy Greuel's audit of the department's response times.
The committee requested a cost estimate to hire an independent third- party review of the data.
LAFD officials briefed the committee on the department's plans for installing automatic location tracking devices on each of its nearly 600 vehicles. The department has installed the devices in about half of its vehicles, but still needs to purchase devices and new computers for the remaining fire engines, trucks and ambulances.
Englander asked for a report back on the cost to make the additional purchases and to begin using the location data to drive emergency response.
"What this could do for emergency response is phenomenal," Englander said.
Cummings also reassured the committee that the department would continue providing basic details about emergencies to which it responds, including the addresses of incidents and the ages and genders of those injured.
Last weekend, the fire chief ordered the department to stop releasing incident locations and injury information to the public, arguing the LAFD risked violating the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, a medical privacy law enacted in 1996.
The move drew outrage from news organizations and lawyers specializing in media law and First Amendment cases and prompted the mayor late Wednesday to order the fire department to stop withholding basic information about emergency responses.
"We're going to continue to provide the information that we provided per past practice," Cummings told the committee. "We're working collaboratively with the city attorney's office and the mayor's office, and awaiting a written opinion from the city attorney's office to ensure we aren't in violation of federal law."