Los Angeles Fire Department Says Data On Response Times Is Misleading

March 12, 2012

Los Angeles Fire Department officials have for years released misleading data on the response times of firefighters, according to a report.

LAFD brass made the admission Friday after mayoral candidate Austin Beutner cited fire department numbers in a Huffington Post column that claimed budget and staffing cuts caused response times to increase.

When questioned about the numbers by the Los Angeles Times, officials said they used figures that made it appear that firefighters were arriving at the scene of emergencies faster than they actually were.

Relying on LAFD reports, Beutner said that in 2008 the department responded to medical emergencies within five minutes 86 percent of the time. He blamed budget cuts for a decline in that figure to 59 percent last year.

Retired Captain Billy Wells, who calculated the original numbers, said he followed the department’s long tradition of using a six-minute response standard.

Wells’ successor, Capt. Mark Woolf, said he reluctantly continued using the flawed formula for a time because he didn’t want to shoulder the blame for a sudden drop in department performance.

“I didn’t want to touch that (extra) minute because I knew the data would take a dump,” Woolf told the newspaper.

Corrected data generated by a new computer system shows that in 2008, the department actually hit the five-minute goal only 64 percent of the time, officials said. By last year, that number had fallen to about 60 percent, according to the Times.

The numbers controversy comes as the LAFD is facing increased scrutiny over how budget reductions have affected service. Fire Department spending has been reduced more than 15 percent in recent years, and about a quarter of the city’s 106 fire stations have eliminated staffing for fire trucks or ambulances, according to the Times.

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