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L.A. City Council Votes Funds For Fire Overtime

The city fire chief today called off the much-debated reassignment of firefighters from fire trucks to ambulances after the City Council voted 12-0 to give him $1.56 million to fund overtime costs

The funding will allow the department to add 11 ambulances without having to take firefighters away from light force fire trucks, city officials said.

Fire Chief Brian Cummings’ reassignment plan was fiercely opposed by the firefighters’ union and a fire chief’s association, sparking a scramble by some council members last week to halt the effort before it was implemented Sunday.

Firefighters who were re-deployed to ambulance duty would be assigned back to fire trucks starting Wednesday, Cummings said.

Councilman Paul Krekorian introduced a motion Tuesday to transfer money from the city’s budget stabilization fund, which has about $60 million. Council President Herb Wesson pushed for the funding, saying it could buy some time until the next mayor is elected May 21.

“We need to give them (the next mayor) breathing room so they can frickin’ get here, so we can figure out how to proceed,” Wesson said.

Cummings said it would cost $13 million to continue funding the ambulances for a full year. He is scheduled to give the council a full report on May 21.

The fire chief said last month that re-deploying firefighters would add 11 more ambulances to better match the department’s needs — since 85 percent of calls to which the agency responds are medical-related — while leaving trucks and engines free to respond to fires.

Cummings insisted today the deployment did not significantly affect the department, despite accusations by members of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City and the Chief Officers Association that the move would endanger firefighter and public safety.

Councilman Dennis Zine criticized the process, saying the city needs to be better prepared for its funding needs.

“We’re too sophisticated of a city to resort (to) crisis management,” he said.

Cummings, who has been under pressure to reduce fire response times, told the council he had already come to them requesting funds, but “when that money wasn’t forthcoming,” he made his own decision about how to best deploy personnel.

Krekorian, who chairs the Budget & Finance Committee, told City News Service the budget stabilization fund is typically meant to serve as a cushion against economic fluctuations. The Fire Department allocation “was not ideal,” but it was better than dipping into the city’s reserve fund.

Councilman Mitchell Englander called for a more comprehensive restoration of the fire department budget.

“Let’s not forget the history of what happened here,” he said. “We cut their budget because we were told by the former chief they can absorb a $7 million hit based on the data. It was false data. It was wrong.”

Englander said Cummings and the fire commission have since fixed the issues of inaccurate response-time data and reporting.

The budget committee is reviewing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s proposed budget, which was released last month, and is set to resume daily budget sessions Wednesday.

The council and Villaraigosa must come to an agreement on the budget before July 1, the start of the fiscal year.