- Several videos are attached to this story on the right.
Some tempers flared as Los Angeles Fire Department officials tried to explain proposed cuts in emergency services at a town hall meeting Wednesday evening in Porter Ranch.
Discussion of the new deployment plan, forced by city budget cuts, brought out about 200 Chatsworth and Porter Ranch residents as well as off-duty firefighters, who filled a double classroom at Shepherd of the Hills Church.
The Fire Department is looking to shave $54 million off its 2011-12 budget and about $232 million over the next three years.
Assistant Fire Chief Brian Cummings and Battalion Chief Trevor Richmond presented the 2011 Deployment Plan. Neither Fire Chief Millage Peaks nor Councilman Greig Smith attended the meeting.
Councilman-elect Mitch Englander, currently chief of staff for the retiring Smith, attempted to calm angry residents and disgruntled firefighters who claimed superiors want to stifle their comments at the microphone during the question-and-answer session. Englander is a reserve police officer and supporter of firefighters.
Firefighters have been attending neighborhood meetings, trying to allay misconceptions about the proposed deployment plan.
Thomas Johnson, president of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council, seemed to sum up the feelings of many in the room when he said, “In a time of an emergency, we need you, and I don’t feel like you’ll be there.”
The Fire Department representatives laid out the proposed 2011 Deployment Plan, which would go into effect July 1 after the City Council approves next year’s budget.
The proposed deployment plan decreases the number of fire trucks, engines and manned ambulances and reshuffles personnel, which has led to concerns over cuts to emergency services and potentially longer LAFD response times.
But fire officials on Wednesday called the plan fluid and subject to adjustment, if necessary.
They quickly flipped through a series of PowerPoint slides and described the plan, using Fire Department jargon to the befuddlement of many in the room, before opening the microphone for questions.
The city is facing a $336-million budget deficit as reported by the City Administrative Office at the city's Budget and Finance Committee meeting earlier this week.
Under the proposed deployment plan for firefighters, paramedics and EMTs, no jobs would be lost or stations closed.
Cummings and Richmond told those assembled that the proposed deployment plan would bring stability to the Chatsworth and Porter Ranch fire stations, solving a staffing problem under the department’s current Modified Coverage Plan.
Clara Woll, a member of the Public Safety and Transportation Committee of the Chatsworth Neighborhood Council, said city officials shouldn’t touch fire and police budgets; rather they should cut the budgets of less important services, she said.
“Chatsworth and Porter Ranch are the first in a line of defense against wildfires,” Woll said following the meeting. “If wildfires aren’t stopped here, they can burn all the way to the beach."
Fire officials said the plan can change to respond to emergency needs when and where necessary.
Cummings said the plan is fully supported by Fire Chief Peaks, who, he added, is concerned about the well-being and safety of the more than 4 million Los Angeles residents.
“This is the chief’s plan,” Cummings said.
Eighty-three percent of the Fire Department emergencies reportedly are for medical services.
Chatsworth Station 96 could lose one engine truck carrying four firefighters. What could remain is one hook-and-ladder.
The hook-and-ladder truck carries the "Jaws of Life," apparatus used to extricate car crash victims trapped in vehicles. Saws, tools, ladders and other heavy equipment used in earthquake and other rescue situations are also aboard.
Porter Ranch Station 8 will be losing an ambulance with a dedicated driver and paramedic assigned to it. It will be replaced with an unmanned unit with no team to take it out on calls. As a result the station will be down two employees.
Fire Station 28 is losing an "assessment light force," meaning a fire truck, an engine and a paramedic. Instead, Station 28 will have an assessment engine, which includes a paramedic. That translates to the net loss of two firefighters.
Many firefighters and residents say they feel the San Fernando Valley is taking the brunt of the cuts.
Porter Ranch Neighborhood Councilwoman Becky Leveque, a staunch supporter of police and fire services, described Porter Ranch as a unique area that includes the ongoing building of homes, a new school under construction, and a natural-gas storage area beneath the foothills to the north.
“We should be very concerned about what resources we have, should we have an emergency,” Leveque said.
Leveque said she understands the Valley has to take a budget “hit," but its residents don't want to "take a bigger hit than anywhere else in the city.”
Click here to review the Fire Department’s proposed 2011 Deployment Plan.