L.A. Fire Chief To Step Down In Wake Of Controversy Over Response Times

Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings will retire from his position as head of the city Fire Department, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti and a department spokesman.

Cummings had struggled to restore confidence in his management of the 3,500-employee department after officials admitted last year to misstating emergency-response times, making it appear that rescuers arrived faster than they actually did.

During his campaign, Garcetti said he lacked confidence in the fire chief’s leadership and second-guessed a series of the chief’s management decisions.

“By mutual agreement, we’ve come to an understanding on a leadership change with Chief Cummings,” Garcetti said in a brief interview as he walked into City Hall on Thursday morning. “He’ll be stepping aside as chief.”

Cummings previously said he would like to remain chief until at least 2018. His retirement was confirmed by an LAFD spokesman, Battalion Chief Armando Hogan.

When he took office, Garcetti called on the city’s top department heads to reapply for their jobs and explain how they would achieve key goals. So far, he has told at least seven they will get to stay, including Gina Marie Lindsey at Los Angeles World Airports and Michael LoGrande at the Department of City Planning.

One high-level executive, Geraldine Knatz at the Port of Los Angeles, announced last week that she will retire at the end of the year.

A second-generation firefighter with more than 30 years of service with the LAFD, Cummings was appointed chief by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011. Last year he earned nearly $300,000 as the agency’s top officer, city records show.

As an assistant chief, Cummings helped devise a data-heavy, cost-cutting plan to trim LAFD resources to help cope with fiscal constraints caused by the economic downturn, a measure Garcetti supported when he was president of the City Council.

When the previous fire chief retired, Villaraigosa picked Cummings to fill the job, praising him as the “visionary architect” of the new staffing plan.

That reputation was undermined after last year’s admission of faulty response times when a task force of experts concluded that fire officials charged with managing department statistics under Cummings were poorly qualified and that previous LAFD data analysis “should not be relied upon.”

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.

Many of those problems have been blamed on the department’s often outdated technology. Members of the city Fire Commission, the county’s Civil Grand Jury and the City Council have called for a sweeping overhaul of the department’s data systems.

Expensive upgrades are already in the works, including the installation of GPS devices on rescue vehicles, the replacement of the 911 call center’s faulty dispatch database and fixes to the alarm system that alerts rescuers at the department’s 106 fire stations.

The department is also developing a new data analysis unit, modeled on a highly-touted team at the Los Angeles Police Department.

With more than 3,500 employees, the LAFD is one of the largest municipal fire departments in the United States.

In the city budget, the amount of money directed to the Fire Department is second only to the LAPD. The department spends more than $500 million a year to pay and train firefighters, maintain a fleet with hundreds of special rescue apparatus, answer 911 calls, enforce fire codes and monitor hazardous waste.

From The Los Angeles Times

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