LAFD chief's report slammed by city Fire Commission

The Los Angeles Fire Commission on Tuesday delivered a strong rebuke of a highly anticipated report by the fire chief regarding a controversial plan to beef up the number of ambulances assigned to firehouses.

The report by LAFD Chief Brian Cummings was intended to quell criticism of his plan to reassign 22 firefighters per shift from engines to ambulances, a move he said was necessary to address a growing load of 911 calls for medical help.

But several members of the five-person civilian board that oversees the department, including the panel's president, slammed the chief's report as vague and unfocused, asking for major revisions before they would consider it acceptable. 

“Because I'm a schoolteacher, I write in red,” President Genethia Hudley-Hayes said, waving the chief's report to show how she had marked it up with a red pen. “On every page of this report I had questions. It raised more questions than it gave answers.”

The harsh reaction marked a significant public break between the board president and the chief. Hudley-Hayes has consistently stood behind Cummings as he has struggled to restore confidence in the department's management after it admitted early last year to overstating response times, making it appear rescuers arrived faster than they actually did.

Cummings' plan was temporarily reversed by the City Council on May 7, where it came under attack from labor groups representing firefighters and the department's chief officers, who said it put firefighters and the public at risk.

Cummings argued that move was necessary and based on thorough data analysis, but declined to issue a full report justifying the decision until after it took effect.

A task force of experts concluded late last year that fire officials charged with crunching numbers were poorly qualified and previous departmental data analysis "should not be relied upon."  

Subsequent Times investigations found delays in processing 911 calls and summoning the nearest medical rescuers from other jurisdictions, as well as wide gaps in response times in different parts of the city. 

The department says those data problems have been fixed and new initiatives like the ambulance shift are based on reliable figures. But on Tuesday, commissioners expressed skepticism that the chief would be able to convince the City Council to fund future plans without higher-quality policy papers.

“My one word, if I were to describe this in one word, is disappointment,” said Commissioner Alan J. Skobin.

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ben.welsh@latimes.com

robert.lopez@latimes.com