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Fire Chief, Mayor Defend LAFD Redeployment, Response Times

Department acknowledged that it had been inappropriately reporting how often firefighters arrive on the scene in under five minutes.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Fire Chief Brian Cummings Tuesday defended the city's redeployment of firefighters last summer, which led to the shuttering of a number of fire engine and ambulance companies and increased response times, according to newly released data.

The officials also defended a decision to switch to a new way of reporting response times that made previous years' data look better than it was.

The accuracy of response times was challenged last June by residents in Chatsworth and Porter Ranch at Town Hall meetings when LAFD brass was promoting the new deployment plan. Chatsworth and Porter Ranch residents expressed fear of wildfires which have swept across the northern San Fernando Valley in recent years.

Details of the discrepency in the statistics was uncovered by mayoral candidate Austin Beutner in an opinion piece written for the Huffington Post.

As a result, the department acknowledged last week that it had been inappropriately reporting how often firefighters arrive on the scene of a call in under five minutes. The National Fire Protection Association recommends crews arrive on- scene in under five minutes 90 percent of the time.

One firefighter told Chatsworth Patch, "You used to have a Cadillac fire department. Now you've got a Hundai."

Department officials told the mayor's office and City Council members during budget preparations last year that the LAFD was meeting that goal close to 86 percent of the time for medical emergencies. But department brass told the Los Angeles Times last week that percentage was based on an arrival rate of six minutes or less.

Capt. Denise Jones of Fire Station 28 told the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council on March 6 that because of the LAFD's redeployment of resources, the community faces longer response times when stations from outside Porter Ranch are backing up her station. Other stations do not have the electronic remote controls to open the entrances at gate-guarded communities. Her trucks have 15 or 16 remote control clickers to get into the various enclaves, she said.

In addition, some firefighters in Chatsworth have complained that departments coming from the outside to back up local fire stations as a result of the redeployment plan do not know Chatsworth's streets and shortcuts, further delaying response times.

After switching over to a new computer system that measured response times in under five minutes, the rate dropped to 64 percent.   Cummings said today that all of the data that the department has published was accurate.

"I would welcome anyone to audit those response times," Cummings told reporters during a news conference at a downtown fire station.   Villaraigosa said the decision in 2009 to switch to the new computer data system was to create a more stringent assessment of the LAFD. He called the department transparent and said it was one of the few departments in the nation to publicly release response times.

Villaraigosa called on City Controller Wendy Greuel to conduct an independent analysis to reassure Angelenos the department's numbers are accurate.

The mayor also revealed that the department's new emergency dispatch center experienced a 90-second failure last week, during which two calls were not responded to "promptly." Villaraigosa called the communication breakdown "brief but significant," but stressed that it did not lead to loss of life.

Cummings said the department had a series of back-up communications in place that include printouts, a ringing fire phone and alert lights at fire stations.

See also:

-- City News Service contributed to this report.

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