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L.A. fire chief pressing ahead with ambulance staffing plan Sunday

Fire Chief Brian Cummings rejects a request from L.A. City Council members to delay shifting staff from fire engines to ambulances for 911 calls.

May 04, 2013|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings rejected a request from members of the City Council to postpone Sunday's start of a controversial plan to shift dozens of firefighters to ambulance duty.

Council President Herb Wesson asked Friday that the Fire Department delay the changes, which are designed to address an increase in 911 medical calls, for three days so lawmakers can consider the effects of the reassignments.

The council has scheduled a hearing Tuesday to address what critics say are safety issues surrounding the new staffing plan.

But LAFD Battalion Chief Ronnie Villanueva said Cummings "is adamant" that the plan begin Sunday.

The shift would add 11 new ambulances to the LAFD's fleet by removing one member per shift from 22 firetrucks across the city. Cummings says the plan is safe. But groups representing firefighters and many department commanders say it will put firefighters and the public at greater risk.

The issue was raised during Friday's council session by two members who attempted to invoke a special procedure that would have allowed lawmakers to vote to officially request that Cummings delay the changes.

Council members Richard Alarcon and Paul Koretz said immediate action was needed because earlier that day, one of Cummings' assistants testified at a committee hearing that the redeployment was risky.

According to Alarcon, Chief Deputy Daren Palacios said that having one less rescuer on a fire engine would be less safe for firefighters and the public.

Alarcon and Koretz withdrew their motion after a city lawyer said the legislative effort to order the chief to delay the change was inappropriate. Wesson then announced he would call the chief and ask Cummings to hold off.

Several council members expressed concern about the plan, including Dennis Zine, who called it "a disservice to public safety."

Councilman Bernard Parks defended Cummings, noting that the plan was vetted by the Fire Commission and that the chief has the authority to make the changes without council approval.

"I would hope we would let the fire chief be the fire chief and allow the fire chief to make deployment decisions well within his [authority]," said Parks, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Alarcon argued that the council shouldn't simply accept the chief's assurances that the plan is safe. He cited Cummings' past promises that an earlier, more extensive redeployment plan would not affect emergency response times. The changes, which the Fire Department made after drastic cuts to its budget, were later found to have increased some response times.

"Quite frankly, there have been a lot of decisions that this council has backed up under the same theory of just supporting our chief, and they've flown back in our face," Alarcon said.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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