Councilmember Calls for Solutions to Address Chronic, Increasing Under Staffing in Fire Department

LOS ANGELES – Sounding an alarm about a risk to public safety, City Councilmember Mike Bonin today called on the City to address a chronic and unprecedented staffing shortage in the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD).

Bonin said that LAFD’s routine use of a staffing procedure meant for disasters and extreme emergencies illustrates that the department lacks a long-term, sustainable hiring plan to provide sufficient resources to protect public health and safety.

“The Fire Department is shrinking and, to cover gaps, we are forcing firefighters to routinely work consecutive 24-hour overtime shifts to the point of exhaustion,” Bonin said. “That is a dangerous and extreme way of addressing inadequate staffing. A realistic, long-term hiring plan is long overdue.”

LAFD_Hiring_Emergency.jpg

Bonin submitted a council motion today warning of increasing number of retirements, growing attrition and a shrinking force of firefighters and paramedics. He calls on the department to explain its use of the emergency “recall system” to routinely keep stations open and staffed, and calls for a strategic hiring plan that will preserve staffing levels and better protect the public.

“We are already understaffed in many of our neighborhood fire stations, and the trajectory of a shrinking department is chilling,” Bonin said.  “The use of the recall system is a clear sign there is a growing problem.”

Due to budget cuts and staffing shortages, LAFD in July began frequently using the emergency recall system to ensure there are enough firefighters and paramedics to staff the City’s 106 neighborhood fire stations. The system requires firefighters to work overtime shifts just to keep fire station resources open and maintain minimum safe staffing levels throughout the City. A recall is generally reserved for major emergencies, such as earthquakes or civil unrest.  

On the less routine “Red Flag” and “Extreme Fire Hazard” Days such as today, when the department staffs additional engine companies in the brush fire prone areas of the city, there is an even greater reliance on the recall system to ensure communities such as the Pacific Palisades, Brentwood and Mountaingate receive additional resources.

No new firefighters have been hired in the past five years in Los Angeles, and attrition has reduced the ranks at LAFD from nearly 3,600 sworn firefighters in 2008-2009 to less than 3,100 today.  The attrition rate is expected to increase in the upcoming two fiscal years, and the anticipated rate of new hiring will not be able to keep up with it for at least four and a half years in the current best case scenario, Bonin said.

Bonin’s motion won praise from rank-and-file first responders, including the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City (UFLAC).

“On behalf of the nearly 3,100 firefighters and paramedics in Los Angeles City, I thank Councilmember Bonin for recognizing that our Department has been decimated without hiring a single firefighter during the past five years,” said UFLAC President Frank Lima. “Our City needs to prioritize public safety and I thank Mr. Bonin for standing up for our firefighters.”

Bonin’s motion, which was seconded by Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, formally calls on the LAFD, Office of the City Administrative Officer and Personnel Department to immediately report on a variety of options for increasing the number of firefighters in Los Angeles, including adding new Drill Tower classes or opening a second Drill Tower, increasing staffing levels on field resources to accommodate more probationary firefighters and increasing resources at the Personnel Department’s Public Safety Division to assist with the processing of additional applicants.

This is the latest motion submitted by Bonin that seeks to improve the way the fire department provides life-saving services to people in Los Angeles. At his first City Council meeting in July, Bonin proposed equipping firefighters with modern tablet technology as part of a comprehensive technology integration master plan at the Department.

– # # # –