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Fire Department on the verge of major overhaul

Outside consulting firm lays out blurprint for change

City News Service | 5/1/2014, midnight

The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday set into motion an overhaul of the fire department, instructing city staffers to study dividing the city into bureaus and revamping its disciplinary process, among other things.

City staffers were directed pick up where a $500,000 report by PA Consulting left off.

The council, reacting to reports of nepotism and fire officials fudging response times, hired the consultants to help come up with blueprint for reform. Members also suggested hiring outside help to come up with a new system for tracking and reporting response times, which helps guide the deployment of resources and cut overtime costs.

Staffers were instructed work with fire department officials, the Fire Commission and the firefighters union to reassess the department’s disciplinary process and recommend improvements.

Staffers were urged to come up with maps of proposed firefighting districts, similar to the way the police department is dividing into bureaus, with 21 patrol areas.

New positions were authorized for a chief technology officer, an executive director, a director fire statistics and a deputy chief.

The executive director would report to the Fire Commission, and the added deputy chief would oversee medical services.

A list of recommendations for the City Council’s review is expected by July 1.

The union representing 3,100 sworn fire department employees panned the PA Consulting report earlier this month. In a letter sent to council members, union president Frank Lima called the report “woefully lacking.”

PA Consulting did not ask for input from the firefighters union, Lima said, and the report writers did not seem to understand what he called complex public safety issues.

The consultant’s report, which said the fire department had a “cultural aversion to change and fear of litigation,” recommended giving the fire chief a five-year employment contract and filling about 200 positions with civilian employees.

The report found that chief’s job had devolved into a “revolving position, which has destabilized the LAFD.”

It also criticized the department for putting people into supervisory positions for which they were unqualified.

As of the disciplinary process, “it is broken, driven by fear of litigation, reprisals and the perception that it is a `no-win’ situation.”

The report recommended hiring civilian managers and called for 193 sworn positions to be “civilianized,” including the director of employee relations, communications and data analysis, as well as the newly created position of chief technology officer.

Over the past 10-15 years, the Los Angeles Police Department has been replacing sworn officers in desk jobs and other non-policing roles with civilians, the consultant’s report noted.