Facing scrutiny over emergency response times, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said Monday that they would assign a full-time ambulance to Porter Ranch, a neighborhood seeing some of the longer wait times for medical attention.
During a Fire Department reorganization last year to save money, the Porter Ranch station ended up with an engine and an ambulance that was staffed 80 percent of the time.
But amid press reports and an increasing concern from the community about slower response times, the department said Fire Station 28 on Corbin Avenue would get a basic life-support ambulance staffed 100 percent of the time as part of a reshuffling of resources beginning next month, said LAFD spokesman Capt. Jamie Moore.
Despite the change, LAFD officials continued to assure residents there's no public safety risk from the redeployment plan, which saved $53 million this year by eliminating trucks and ambulances from fire stations across the city.
Instead Moore said the move was driven by political pressure.
"This is politics," Moore said of the decision to shuffle resources. "You've got a mayoral candidate looking for a hook."
That candidate is Austin Beutner, a former deputy to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who is now running for mayor. He raised concern this month that the redeployment plan had dramatically worsened response times.
On Monday he released data from July through October that showed the Fire Department arrived to emergencies in Porter Ranch within five minutes only 30 percent of the time.
Fire crews arrived within five minutes to emergency calls in Encino 15 percent of the time, and to Westchester 38 percent of the time.
The National Fire Protection Association's guidelines say departments should reach emergencies within five minutes 90 percent of the time.
"If I was in Encino or Westchester, I'd be worried," Beutner said Monday. "I don't purport to be a public safety expert, but you look at the Valley, and the numbers are quite stark. I'd like to see someone explain why."
But Moore said the lower numbers don't always indicate a slower response time.
For instance, Porter Ranch experiences fewer emergency calls and LAFD officials can forget to log response times, which can skew figures, Moore said.
Still, the department is facing increasing scrutiny from politicians and community leaders over the response time numbers.
Last week LAFD officials admitted they'd changed how they measure response times without telling the City Council, which voted on the controversial redeployment plan based on the old measure that overstated how quickly crews arrived to emergencies.
At a news conference last week, LAFD Chief Brian Cummings and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa assured residents that Los Angeles maintains an excellent response time, and that the public wasn't at risk.
But Pat McOsker, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, which fought against department budget cuts, said the latest data confirms fears that response times would climb in already understaffed areas like the San Fernando Valley.
"It's the Valley, it's the West Hills, Encino," said McOsker. "It's where we lost resources. The council should restore these resources as quickly as possible."
Patrick Pope, a member of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council, said there's concern in the community about receiving adequate ambulances services. The biggest issue, he said, is the desire to have more advanced life saving ambulances, which are equipped to treat more serious calls. The city currently has 89, according to officials, and hasn't lost any during the recent budget cuts.
Additionally, he points out that the fire station in Porter Ranch doesn't have the most advanced Jaws of Life equipment. It must come from a neighboring area.
Pope said the restoration of a full-time staffed ambulance at Station 28 is a good start.
"It's not what we need, but it's better than what we have," Pope said.
"There's a general feeling that people aren't getting what they paid for."