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Villaraigosa decries firefighters union over Metrolink crash photo

L.A. mayor calls use of the image from the deadly collision in a mailer against budget cuts 'shameful.' Union chief says people should know that temporarily closing units could hurt disaster response.

August 15, 2009|David Zahniser and Phil Willon

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Friday denounced the city firefighters union for using images of last year's deadly Metrolink crash in Chatsworth in a mailer promoting its fight against budget cuts, calling it a "shameful" exploitation of the disaster.

United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112, locked in heated contract talks, ratcheted up its campaign by referencing the train derailment, which left 25 dead.

"Those kinds of tactics are absolutely unacceptable. They do a disservice to the people . . . who died in Metrolink," Villaraigosa said. "They do a disservice to the brave men and women of the Los Angeles Fire Department who risked their lives."

Union President Pat McOsker said the public needs to know that temporarily closing units could affect the city's response to a disaster. Although all fire stations remain open, the department is taking 15 rescue units and nine ambulances out of service on a rotating basis.

"Our fliers are entirely accurate," he said.

McOsker said Villaraigosa did not raise any objections when Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills used a similar image from the crash to lobby for the approval of a new patient wing.

Villaraigosa countered that, unlike the hospital piece, the union mailer used a picture with "body parts strewn on the ground."

That comment apparently was a reference to a red-stained sheet in the photograph that, according to the mayor's office, covered the body of a Metrolink engineer who died.

The mayor's office magnified that image by about three times its original size and handed out copies to the media Friday.

Hours later, Councilwoman Janice Hahn said she did not know that a tiny white rectangle in the photograph was a body until Villaraigosa brought it up. Hahn, who has criticized the Fire Department cuts, said she saw nothing outrageous in the mailer.

"What's outrageous is that we as a city cannot . . . keep the level of services from our Fire Department that the public expects," she said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

phil.willon@latimes.com

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