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L.A. fire chief's self-inflicted punishment

Editorial

What is it about porn stars and L.A. firetrucks? What's behind L.A. Fire Chief Brian Cummings manages to keep his backside covered amid porn scandal involving the department.

October 12, 2011

If the unnamed siren who flirted with a Venice fire crew 13 years ago had been as good at covering her chest as Fire Chief Brian Cummings is at covering his derriere, the chief might be able to spend as much time putting out real fires as metaphorical ones. But boys will be boys, and sometimes girls will go wild.

We probably could have lived without knowing that, in 1998, a bikini-clad woman on the Venice boardwalk approached a firetruck manned by a four-man crew led by Cummings, and the firefighters asked if she would pose for pictures with them. According to the bizarre confession staged last week by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office, in which Cummings held one-on-one media interviews to enumerate his less-than-cardinal sins, the firefighters were subsequently shocked, shocked to see her take off her bikini top while posing in front of the truck. But not too shocked to stop taking pictures.

So why did Cummings feel the need to tell us this? Because L.A. hook-and-ladder rigs are suddenly very much in the news. Last month, NBC4 LA reported that personnel at two fire stations — in Hollywood and, coincidentally, in Venice — had allowed their trucks to be used in pornographic film shoots. In the Venice shoot, an actress climbed onto a firetruck and disrobed, in a sequence similar to the Cummings incident in 1998. This shows that despite all evidence to the contrary, porn imitates life.

We're not about to suggest that this is an appropriate use of firefighting equipment. The firefighters involved in the porn shoots embarrassed the L.A. Fire Department and should be disciplined — except it turns out they can't be, because the City Charter has a two-year statute of limitations on disciplinary actions in the Fire Department, and the filmmaking in question happened in or before 2008. Cummings says he came forward last week to set an example for the department, apparently trying to show that bad behavior should be punished even if the city is powerless to do so. To emphasize this point, he slapped himself with a penalty of 120 hours of community service.

That's nice, though we suspect that if firefighters had to perform community service every time they engaged in frat-house behavior, L.A. would have the cleanest streets and the best-run nursing homes in America. There is an obvious difference between professional porn shoots and flirtatious behavior on the boardwalk, and we didn't really need Villaraigosa to tell us that the photo incident "doesn't tarnish [Cummings'] entire career." But Cummings' butt is now armor-plated should anyone try to accuse him of setting a bad example. Hurray. Now isn't there a cat up a tree somewhere that needs rescuing?

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