Emergency Services Response Times Are Vitally Important (Except When A Wealthy Developer Decides They’re Not)
The City of Los Angeles is deeply concerned with Emergency Services response times, and with good reason. One or two minutes can sometimes be the difference between saving lives and arriving too late.
For the past couple of years, to measure Fire Department alacrity (or lack thereof), the City has employed a sophisticated data-analysis program called FireStatLA. Like sabremetrics in baseball, it collates and quantifies an array of performance metrics, measuring elapsed times between 911 call, departure from the station and arrival at the incident scene.
How minutely detailed is FireStatLA? It tracks seemingly trivial intervals, such as the time it takes a firefighter to walk from her dormitory bed to the emergency truck, the time it takes a firefighter to walk from his kitchen microwave to the truck, and the time it takes to get from the bathroom to the truck. Obsessing over a few ambulatory moments here and there may appear silly and inconsequential at first blush, but the philosophy behind FireStatLA is that every second counts.
At the system’s roll-out, Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “FireStatLA is a signature element of my work to reform the fire department and reduce response times. FireStat is aimed at increasing accountability, improving decision making and better allocating resources, with the primary goal of improving response times – which, in turn, helps us better fulfill our mission of saving lives and protecting property. My back to basics agenda is about making sure city government is focused on those services that matter most to our neighborhoods, so providing the best possible fire and paramedic service to the people of Los Angeles is at the top of our list.” [emphasis mine]
Why, then, are giant building projects that profoundly affect EMS response times getting approved without the expert input of the firefighters who must attempt to push-through jammed roads?
Why does no one in the Planning Department care what local fire chiefs think about proposed building projects?
Why is the City of Los Angeles measuring walking times from dormitories-to-trucks but not measuring how 4,600 vehicle trips in a residential neighborhood will affect the response times of Emergency Services?
For more than a year, a heedless out-of-state real estate developer, acting with the tacit blessing of CD4 Councilmember David Ryu, who refuses to disavow the reviled project, has put into motion plans to build a massive shopping mall on the corner of Sunset & Gardner, anchored by a(nother) supermarket the historic Sunset Square neighborhood neither needs or wants. The site, 7445 Sunset, is next door to an elementary school playground, just a few steps from where parents drop-off and pick-up their children. The developer’s traffic study, which attempts to downplay the impact of the wildly inappropriate project on the community, is still plenty frightening: the study estimates traffic will increase dramatically, adding 6-7 vehicle trips per minute in this sensitive area.
Hollywood’s Fire Station 41 is located on the south side of Sunset & Gardner. The firefighters and paramedics use Gardner Street to access the homes and businesses north of Sunset. Although none of the rank-and-file is permitted to give their opinion to a reporter – because, really, what would they know about how traffic affects their job? — numerous Emergency Services personnel I spoke with registered grave concern over the amount of traffic the City proposes to bring to their most important access streets. When asked what kind of impact the 7445 Sunset shopping mall would have on FS41’s response times, every firefighter I contacted declined to give an answer on the record. But they all confided that, yes, of course, there would be a profound impact on their ability to protect and serve the surrounding neighborhood. How could there not be? Traffic is already bad. Add a few thousand more cars into the mix, what do you expect will happen?
For the record, in the first four months of 2017, FS41 responded to 1319 incidents. Average operational response time ranged from 5:20 for structure fires and 6:43 for EMS.
How much additional time would be acceptable if you were having a heart attack?
How much time spent waiting for a grocery store delivery truck to complete a Y-turn would be reasonable if your home was burning?
Yet, in the hundreds of papers the developer and his mendacious lobbyist have filed with the City, not one document contains information on how the 7455 Sunset shopping mall will impact Emergency Services response times.
Fire Station 41 wasn’t asked. They weren’t consulted. Not by the developer, not by Councilmember David Ryu.
Is it possible they’re not eager to hear the truth?
Bureaucrats downtown beholden to Mayor Garcetti, in an office called “Access and Hydrants,” rubber stamp development plans. But the firefighters on the ground, the ones who actually deal with the impact of clogged roads, are never consulted.
So, while Mayor Garcetti and Councilmember Ryu position themselves as Knights of Public Safety, calculating the time it takes for a firefighter to get from the toilet to the truck, they remain blissfully unaware of how adding thousands of new residences, vehicles and other consumers of infrastructure will impact the brave men and women providing the best possible fire and paramedic service to the people of Los Angeles.
Alarmingly, since 1973, when the City employed more than 5,000 firefighters, the number of Fire Stations in Los Angeles has dropped. There are 17 fewer stations today than 40 year ago, and almost 1,500 fewer firefighters on the payroll. Meanwhile, LA’s population has grown by nearly a million. No matter how intelligent and sophisticated the software, even FireStatLa can’t help an understaffed force get to emergencies faster, especially when politicians like Garcetti and Ryu are intent on shoehorning more construction into cramped neighborhoods with narrow streets.
Perhaps the answer isn’t forcing over-extended firefighters to be “more productive.” Perhaps the answer is giving them ample street access to do their job.