LA Fire Department shifts firefighters to ambulance duty to accomodate increase in 911 calls

Deepa Fernandes/KPCC

Fire fighters from Glendale's 23rd company clean the truck the morning after putting out a rapid brush fire that threatened many homes.

On Sunday the Los Angeles Fire Department shifted dozens of firefighters to serve as emergency medical providers in the Department's ambulances.

Chief Armando Hogan says 85 percent of the calls the fire department receives are emergency medical calls, not fire calls. He says the fire department is often called "when wires are down... power lines are down."

He added that the fire department deals with stuck elevators, hazmat incidents and urban search and rescue. "We are an all-risk provider."

But opponents say the move puts lives at risk. When this shift of fire personnel was discussed at a City Council meeting last Friday, some council members spoke out against it. 

Councilmember Dennis Zine, who represents the 3rd District, told KPCC that the City Council requested that Fire Chief Ronnie Villanueva "hold off on the changes until next Tuesday when we can discuss in detail the issues that concern safety of the firefighters and safety of the public."

Zine is concerned that with an already understaffed fire department — no new recruits have been hired since 2009, yet staff have left or retired — there might not be enough firefighters available should the area need them.

"We're already down over 318 firefighters," Zine said. "You need to have those firetrucks staffed and equipped with the personnel to respond to incidents. You can’t just rob [from] one to put it in the other, you’ve gotta have both."

"There are currently 953 firefighters on duty every day in L.A. County, of which 253 serve as paramedics," said Chief Armando Hogan of the LAFD.

This is precisely what worries opponents of the staff shifts. Firefighters, said Zine, with their basic EMT training, are not adequately trained to handle the higher level "paramedic" duties the LAFD are called on to deal with. 

Zine believes that if more EMT paramedic personnel are needed, then L.A.'s fire chief, Ronnie Villanueva, should be asking for more money to hire new personnel and waiting until current Council budget negotiations are done.

The Council will take up the issue at Tuesday's meeting.

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