LAFD Admits to Misleading Response Data

Officials reveal skewed response time data and change to calculation system.


 
 

The Daily News of Los Angeles | | Monday, March 19, 2012


Los Angeles Fire Department response times are under scrutiny following a department admission that it presented misleading data to city officials during last year's budget talks.

At a Tuesday press conference, Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Brian Cummings admitted the department failed to tell the City Council that it changed its methodology measuring how quickly fire crews responded to emergencies.

"Potentially, we should have put down that we changed our method," Cummings said. "We should have done that."

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that first responders arrive to fires in about five and half minutes, 90 percent of the time.

Last week, LAFD officials acknowledged it never informed the City Council that it switched to a computerized system that altered how the department calculated the rate at which it met its goal.

Under the old method, the department was actually using a six-minute standard in calculating how often it met its goal. After switching to a new computerized system in 2009, the target was changed to five minutes - making it seem as if the department saw a big drop in its target, when in fact it was the target itself that had changed.

City Councilman Dennis Zine said Tuesday he may not have approved the LAFD's budget cut plan if he knew the actual response numbers. LAFD response times are tied to public safety, he pointed out.

"This creates a lack of trust," said Zine. "This can put lives at risk."

Officials never revealed a whole minute had been shaved off their measurement time goal, making it appear the department had stronger performance in the past, before the city's budget cuts.

Also skewing the data was that the LAFD included nonemergency data in its overall response times.

Concerned by news reports over the weekend about the inaccurate information, City Controller Wendy Greuel said she plans to audit response times.

Meanwhile, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa - who appeared alongside the fire chief at Tuesday's press conference - defended the general LAFD response times, saying the department's record is commendable.

"Our response times are some of the best in the country," Villaraigosa said.

LAFD officials also pointed to statistics showing that since budget cuts went into effect in July, the department has responded to fires in less than five and half minutes 87 percent of the time. The department responded in under five minutes to general accidents and incidents 64 percent of the time, a 3 percent drop since 2008.

Still, the LAFD's failure to accurately portray response times was seized upon by Pat McOsker, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, who said City Hall made the cuts using "false logic." Since 2009, the LAFD has seen its budget shrink by $80 million.

"We have been saying for years we didn't have enough resources, that we are having delayed response times," McOsker said.

Villaraigosa called McOsker's criticisms outrageous, adding, "It is a reflection of the lack of leadership up in that union. It's the same guy who put out posters saying they were going to die (because of the cuts)."



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