Flanked by members of the firefighters’ union, Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel is criticizing a new firefighter deployment plan, arguing her opponent, Eric Garcetti, has not done enough to restore the fire resources that were cut in the midst of the city’s fiscal crisis.
When Greuel and Garcetti were on the City Council in 2009, they both supported a budget plan that called for reductions in every city agency, including the Fire Department. When the plan came up for consideration a second time, Greuel had already moved over to the city controller’s office.
Outside a fire station in Venice on Monday, Greuel faulted the “leadership of the city, including my opponent,” for cutting the Fire Department budget by $89 million between 2009 and 2012 -- which she said had "decimated" its resources and amounted to the loss of more than 318 firefighters.
She took issue with a new plan advanced last week by Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings to reassign dozens of city firefighters from engines to ambulances.
Facing an increasing number of medical calls, the chief has said his plan would allow the department to deploy 11 new ambulances by moving one firefighter per shift from 22 firetrucks across the city. But one of the labor groups endorsing Greuel, United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112, which represents L.A. firefighters, opposes the plan, arguing that it would put lives at risk. The labor group has put nearly $253,000 into the effort to elect Greuel so far.
Garcetti, still a councilman, has also expressed reservations about the new deployment plan, stating that he wants to see data showing that it would reduce response times before he decides whether to support it.
Greuel cast the plan as a dangerous experiment that would “make Angelenos and our firefighters feel less safe.”
“The fact [that] we’re even having to consider a plan like this is a direct result of the ongoing budget cuts done by the council under my opponent, Eric Garcetti,” she said. “Four years ago, we did have to cut everything across the board. We called it ‘shared sacrifice’ as an interim, and I voted for it. But I never approved the cutting and rolling closures of fire stations that have increased response times and put our community in danger. There was a better way.”
"More significantly since then, the City Council has failed to restore these cuts," she continued. "They did not prioritize the Fire Department year after year.”
Pointing to the initial 2009 vote, Garcetti spokesman Jeff Millman said Greuel was engaging in revisionist history.
“Every day she is making a very hypocritical and shameless attack ... the trash talking tour continues,” he said. “What she doesn’t want voters to know is that she voted to cut the Fire Department by $56 million in 2009. She simply wants to hide that from voters.”
Cummings has said the new deployment plan is necessary to respond to the growing number of medical emergencies in the city.
“After asking for money and not receiving it, I am moving forward,” he said when announcing the plan. A Fire Department spokesman told reporters after Greuel’s press conference that medical calls account for the vast majority of the agency's 911 calls. He said the chief's goal was to build out the department in response to those needs.
"We need to get our staffing levels back up," said Los Angeles Battalion Chief Armando R. Hogan. "The Los Angeles Fire Department responds to over 1,100 calls per day -- 85% of those are medical, less than 2% of those are fires. So we understand the importance of having a full response capability."
"This plan is not unsafe," Hogan said.