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: