James Featherstone (39818)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Fire Chief Brian Cummings, whose tenure was marred by questions about the department’s response times, will step down at the end of the month, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today.

“By mutual agreement, we’ve come to an understanding on a leadership change with Chief Cummings,” Garcetti said. “He’ll be stepping aside as chief.”

Cummings will officially retire in February, but James Featherstone, a former fire captain, will take his place as acting fire chief beginning Nov. 1.

Featherstone, the head of the city’s Emergency Management Department, will return to that post when a permanent replacement for Cummings is found.

“I thank Chief Cummings for his service to Los Angeles,” Garcetti said. “My agenda for the Fire Department is focused on reducing response times, improving technology, to make sure we’re prepared for every emergency.”

Cummings has been with the LAFD since February 1980. He was appointed chief in September 2011 by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Cummings said he will retire in February “following a period of transition.” He earns $286,000 a year and will continue to be paid that amount through February.

Cummings said serving Los Angeles residents has been “an extremely rewarding experience.” He also praised fire department employees and volunteers who “have risen to the multiple challenges of increased workload, decreased funding, staff reductions, fewer apparatus and aging equipment.”

“I remain committed to the ongoing success of this great department,” he said. “I will retire confident that Los Angeles’ strong support of public safety and the Los Angeles Fire Department will afford the continued provision of service befitting the City of Angels.”

Garcetti is in the midst of evaluating all department general managers as part of a re-hiring process announced soon after he assumed office July 1.

The announcement came as the fire department continued working to repair its reputation after it was discovered the agency had been inflating response time figures. Cummings created a task force to tackle the issue.

As a councilman, Garcetti criticized Cummings for not having a plan to improve response times, but Cummings has maintained that the fire department needs additional funds to reach its goal.

In recent months, Cummings has worked to refocus the department’s resources around medical emergency responses, which he said make up 85 percent of the agency’s calls.

City officials chastised Cummings earlier this year for a plan to reassign firefighters to ambulance crews, saying he failed to sufficiently back up the plan with data.

“There’s no data, there’s no beef,” then-Fire Commissioner Alan Skobin said of a report Cummings presented in June.

“I don’t think there was any justification in terms of implementing this plan before there was a report,” he said.

Skobin is now an unpaid adviser to the mayor on fire department technology.

Frank Lima, president of the city firefighters’ union — United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, said he welcomed the announcement.

“The Fire Department is at a crossroads and is in desperate need of strong leadership,” he said. “Funding has been decimated and hundreds of firefighters and paramedics have left due to attrition and retirement without a single firefighter being hired over the past five years.

“As a result, response times in Los Angeles have risen, the credibility of the department has been called into question, staff morale is low and both public and firefighter safety has been put at greater risk,” he said.

Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou | City News Service