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Mayor's fire dept. plan conflicts with brass

September 30, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
We're entering the peak months of fire season and firefighters are gearing up. Thursday, L.A. city leaders announced they're adding more resources in case of a major wildfire. Fire danger is still very high.Facing down flames is one thing, but when firefighters go up against City Hall, their temperatures soar.

In the shadow of L.A. City Fire Station 4, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a plan to temporarily halt the fire department's brownouts. The budget-induced rotating station closures referred to as the "modified coverage plan" will now end for the length of this fire season.

"I've asked the chief to reassign 51 firefighters currently performing administrative duties assisting chief officers," said Villaraigosa.

The mayor's plan strips the city's 16 chiefs of their staff assistants, putting those 51 positions a week back in the frontline rotation. It's a move the mayor says will boost public safety.

But L.A. city's fire chief, standing right beside the mayor, made his displeasure with the plan quite clear to the media.

"With all due respect to the mayor, I don't want to see this happen and I do not agree with the order that he is going to give me to reassign those firefighters," said LAFD Chief Millage Peaks.

Members of the L.A. Fire Department Chief Officers Association say the staff assistants help coordinate the department's response to major disasters, leaving the chiefs with no support staff, they say, could cause confusion and cost lives.

"My biggest concern is that we're going to have a major conflagration inside the city and the chief officers that are on duty at the time are not going to be able to manage it because they don't have adequate staffing and support to maintain command and control," said Peaks.

But the mayor says the city cannot risk having stations closed heading into fire season, and that the city's $360 million budget deficit means the firefighters union is going to have to make some concessions.

"I'm doing this for one reason: We can't sustain the level of benefits, the level of pensions that we currently provide throughout the city," said Villaraigosa.


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