Los Angeles Fire Department officials have for years been releasing misleading data on the response times of firefighters, LAFD brass admitted to the L.A. Times Friday after mayoral candidate Austin Beutner cited incorrect numbers in a Huffington Post column about budget and staffing cuts.
It appears that NBC LA previously reported the correct numbers, but in the HuffPost column, Beutner wrote, "In 2008, Los Angeles was a leader in response time, with the LAFD arriving on the scene of a medical emergency within five minutes 86% of the time." That response time in 2008 was actually 63 or 64 percent, according to the most recent LAFD documents.
When questioned about that incorrect high number by the Times on Friday, LAFD brass said they had used a calculation that made it appear that firefighters were arriving at the scene of emergencies faster than they actually were: A former department statistician wrongly counted all responses that fell within six minutes, citing department tradition. The department's goal, based on federal guidelines, is to arrive in less than five minutes 90 percent of the time.
LAFD has blamed budget cuts for a decline in the five-minute response time to 59 or 60 percent last year. But the drop was far less than it seemed from Beutner's column since the five-minute response time had not been 86 percent.
In an interview with the Times, LAFD Capt. Mark Woolf, who was responsible for calculating the numbers, admitted that he kept using the flawed formula when he took over the job because he didn't want to be blamed for what would inevitably be a huge decrease in the response time statistics.
"I didn't want to touch that [extra] minute because I knew the data would take a dump," he told the Times.