LA City Council considers further reducing ambulance coverage

The Los Angeles City Council is scheduled to consider today a proposal to cut costs by taking 10 of the fire department's least-used ambulances out of service for half of each day.

The Fire Department is already working with 15 fewer fire trucks and nine fewer ambulances under the so-called Modified Coverage Plan put into effect last August to reduce its $52 million deficit by $39 million.

Pulling out an additional 10 ambulances for 12 hours each day would save the city an estimated $3.5 million during the last three months of this year and $23 million during the next fiscal year, according to a report submitted by a working group composed of Councilman Greig Smith, the chiefs and union leaders of both the fire and police departments, and budget and legislative analysts.

"I can't think of anything that would save so little money that would have so grave an impact on public safety as this," Pat McOsker, who heads United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, told the council when the proposal was first brought up last week.

"Without these resources, we're going to be spread that much more thin," he said, noting the fire department responds to an average of 1,300 calls a day.

But Smith said taking out the Basic Life Support ambulances would not drastically affect public safety, noting they respond to an average of 3.5 calls over a 24-hour period, and most of those calls occur between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

"The fire stations remain open and there's always a fire truck there and those people will respond immediately to that call as they always do," Smith said.

"The first truck to your home may be a pumper instead of a BLS ambulance, but it's going to have people who know what to do," he added. "And they have heart attack paddles on all of our pumpers and even in our ladder trucks."

Fire Chief Millage Peaks expressed reservations about the plan but said he had little choice but to go along with it for budgetary reasons.

Under the plan, firefighters who normally work the overnight shift on those 10 ambulances would be transferred to other stations that are short on staff so the department can fill vacancies without paying overtime.

Several council members expressed concerns about response times, however, so the panel agreed to delay a vote.

Among other proposals being considered by the working group to enable the fire and police departments to save money and raise revenues:

  • outsourcing the task of billing residents for ambulance transport;
  • increasing the fees charged by the fire department for transporting patients by ambulance from the current $1,004 to $1,147 or even possibly $1,500, matching fees charged by other municipalities;
  • imposing a fee for basic services provided at the scene of ambulance responses that do not include patient transportation;
  • asking voters to approve a ballot measure that would let residents pay a voluntary fee that would make them exempt from paying for emergency medical services or give them a discount;
  • enacting a parcel tax that would pay for fire protection services;
  • imposing additional fees for certain fire department services;
  • postponing the first two firefighter recruit training classes in 2010-2011;
  • charging outside agencies for providing their officers with training at the Police Academy;
  • letting the county and federal government lease space for inmates at the new Metropolitan Detention Center; and
  • improving the collection of false alarm fees and penalties.
  • Smith said his working group was also debating a plan to spend $18 million to buy new ambulances to replace vehicles that are in such disrepair that maintenance and repair costs have become impractical.

    Some of the proposals are still in the "preliminary discussion phase," he added.

    The fire department had been hoping to reduce its deficit through union concessions, but months of bargaining have yet to produce a contract. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said last week the city is considering unilaterally implementing a contract that would save the department $13 million.

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