LAFD Fire Chief Faces Scrutiny from City Council

The Los Angeles City Council, frustrated by the department’s slow response times and inability to produce accurate data, has summoned Fire Chief Brian Cummings to appear Tuesday, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper details that Cummings’ leadership and the crowning achievement that helped quickly elevate him — cutting $50 million from the department — are under harsh scrutiny, including from past allies.

A wave of outside investigations have found major flaws in the department’s performance data following an admission in March that fire officials for years had released flawed figures that overstated how fast rescuers arrived at emergencies. A department task force put the blame on unqualified staff and outdated computer systems, problems also cited in audits by the city controller and others.

The controller’s report also found that overall response times under Cummings’ new deployment model were longer than when stations were fully staffed. A series of Times investigations later found wide disparities in how quickly city rescuers reached different parts of the city, as well as delays in how long it took dispatchers to process 911 calls.

The chief argues he’s done the best he can with limited funds and has recently pledged to reduce response times if he gets more resources.

City leaders say Cummings’ varying explanations of response time data discrepancies added to concern and confusion at City Hall: He has both bristled at questions about the accuracy of department data and apologized for using inconsistent formulas to produce reports for decision-makers.

One sign of growing frustration with Cummings is the unusually pointed criticism from fire Commissioner Alan Skobin. After nine years as a police commissioner, Skobin was moved to the LAFD oversight panel by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa after the response time controversy broke.

Skobin told The Times that Cummings has not been committed to ensuring that the department’s performance reporting is accurate, which he says has undermined public confidence.

“I saw no evidence that he had the professional focus or tools to approach it,” Skobin said. “I mean it was like a ship taking on more and more water and nobody was fixing the hole or bailing out the water.”

Villaraigosa did not respond to questions about Cummings. But he noted through a spokesman that response times for fires and some high-priority medical calls had improved after the adoption of Cummings’ plan compared with an earlier period of cost-saving cutbacks ordered by the mayor and the City Council. Those cuts, made in 2009 after the economic collapse, shut down a number of rescue units on a rotating basis.

Cummings could not be reached for comment in recent days. But in an interview earlier this year, he said the focus on response times was a distraction. He complained that other measures of his force’s superior emergency service had been ignored.

“This one little tiny piece of it has flashed up in the headlines,” he said.

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