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City fire department response times increase with budget shortfall

March 21, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
It is taking longer, on average, to respond to fires in Los Angeles, and that has caused some worries at City Hall. The mayor wants to do something about it, but the tradeoff is not a pleasant one.

Los Angeles Fire Department emergency response times have only worsened as budget problems also increased. A week ago Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said response times were appropriate. Wednesday he said he will do everything he can to improve the response times.

Villaraigosa admits it won't be easy with the city facing a more than $200-million budget deficit. There will be tough tradeoffs.

"I'm going to be proposing more in the way of civilian layoffs so that we can protect Fire and Police. Because that is our priority," said Villaraigosa.

The goal for response to an emergency is less than five minutes, ninety percent of the time. The response time now has plummeted to less than five minutes, 59 percent of the time. As firefighters have said, it means more lives are at stake.

L.A. Fire Chief Brian Cummings says one of the big problems is an outdated dispatch system. They need a new one.

Pat McOsker, president of firefighters union United Firefighters of Los Angeles City agrees. But McOsker says the budget cuts also have taken their toll on the number of people available.

"We're stretched way too thin and now the statistics are in, the numbers are in, and they show we're not getting there on scene on time to save a life, if a patient for instance is pulseless and non-breathing, 40 percent of the time," said McOsker.

Mayor Villaraigosa says no one has told him about anyone dying because of response time. But he doesn't deny it's a crucial problem.

"I've actually directed the fire chief to provide me with a list of things that we're going to have to try to find the money to pay for it," said Villaraigosa.

At or near the top will be an updated dispatch system that clearly tells firefighters when there is an emergency and where to respond.

It has to be a tradeoff, according to the mayor. It boils down to more layoffs to save money, or public safety response times. It's going to be a difficult budget decision.


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