Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings said Tuesday he did not clearly communicate data about the department's emergency response times to City Council members before they voted to approve a deployment plan that cut the size of the department during 2011-12 budget talks.
Cummings, however, defended the data and said the department never intentionally misled city officials to believe it was performing better than it was.
The chief made the comments during a meeting of the fire commission, which had asked Cummings to address allegations that the department deliberately misled council members to sell its new deployment plan. It went into effect last July.
The plan approved by the council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa eliminated 18 fire companies and four ambulance companies to cut $54 million from the department's 2011-12 budget.
In selling the plan, the Fire Department presented Villaraigosa with data that suggested first-responders made it to the scene of medical emergencies within five minutes 78 percent of the time. The department has since acknowledged that percentage was calculated using a six-minute window of time. Revised figures showed that LAFD crews were meeting the five-minute goal 63 percent of the time prior to 2009.
"We didn't communicate clearly or as soon as was necessary what the issue was here," Cummings said.
Commission President Genethia Hudley-Hayes backed Cummings, saying there was "no intent on anybody's part in the Fire Department to in fact present something that wasn't accurate at the time."
Cummings also raised a new defense of the department's statistics Tuesday, saying that he and former Fire Chief Millage Peaks presented city officials with response times that were calculated by computer modeling software.
The software, Cummings told the commission, calculates response times using ideal conditions when all fire companies and their vehicles are at the ready, which rarely occurs in reality. Response times calculated via the software are projections and usually faster than firefighters were actually able to respond under the new deployment plan.
Cummings and fire commissioners asserted that they warned council members last year that cutting the department's budget would result in slower response times.
"There was not one City Council member who did not understand, clearly understand, that if the budget would be reduced ... as the budget was reduced, that there will be some, some, reduction in response time," Fire Commissioner Andrew Friedman said.
The bottom line, Cummings told the commission, is that "we are thin."
Pat McOsker, president of the union representing rank-and-file firefighters and a critic of the department's deployment model, disputed Cummings' account.
"Three fire chiefs in a row said these response times and service would improve if we made these changes, this reconfiguration," McOsker said. "That didn't happen. ... These LAFD budget cuts affect real people. People are being harmed."