LA firefighters: City budget cuts could hurt emergency services

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Collin Robinson/KPCC

Firefighters and mechanics gather in support as Pat McOsker, the president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles, speaks at a press conference on May 28, 2010.

Some 25 Los Angeles city firefighters and mechanics protested on Friday the city budget cuts that call for layoffs and furloughs within the city.

Firefighters used a press conference held at the Avenue 19 maintenance facility downtown as a warning that any cuts would hurt the city's day-to-day emergency preparedness.

"If you were a general and you were going to send your soldiers into battle, but you were going to cut down on the number of people that support those soldiers, that impacts the people on the front line the most," said Pat McOsker, the president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City. "We are severely understaffed like I have never seen in my 30 years as a firefighter."

The press conference was set up in the middle of the fire department's maintenance yard. Mechanics worked on rigs in the background while firefighters and mechanics took turns at the podium.

"If things keep going how they are now I don't see us being able to maintain for much longer," Tony Mastrolia, the mechanic's union representative. "Over the last two years things have gotten progressively worse. We've already lost 13,000 hours and they're looking to cut 14,900 more."

Joe Ortiz, a 10-year firefighter and paramedic, said he was delayed by 10 minutes on an emergency response call a few months ago because a truck was undergoing maintenance.

Fortunately no one was severely injured, but dispatch had to call another station that was more immediately ready to respond and the caller may have suffered injuries that could have been prevented, Ortiz said.

"You expect firefighters to be able to respond in minutes," said Ortiz. "For simple repairs like brakes, clutches, transmissions it used to take about a day and a half, now it takes almost two weeks before you get your truck back. So things back up and you're not sure if you're really ready to get out as quick as possible."

The city of Los Angeles is proposing 700 to 1,800 layoffs citywide and drastic cuts to city services to close a $485 million deficit. Firefighters say that these cuts would lead to a manpower shortage, fewer emergency vehicles on the road, and delays to repairs of other vehicles. Delays could add up to 30 days of repair time in the worst cases, according UFLAC. Firefighters say that the rate for reserve fleet vehicles that are out-of-service could be as high as 70 percent.

"Basically what the city is doing is a recipe for disaster," said McOsker, who began his career an engineer in department. "These cuts are going to lengthen the turnaround time to get trucks ready, the furloughs and hiring freeze are going to cut down the amount of hours mechanics have to get things done, and we will need more repairs more than ever because we don't have money for new equipment ... it's a potential disaster."

Officials from the city of Los Angeles did not return calls before press time. But according to the Mayor's proposed budget, it specifically cuts nearly $3.8 million from the fund for procurement, maintenance, and repair services in the department.

But the budget also adds $353,322 that will be available for worker salaries which could help with the current hiring freeze.

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