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Morning Lineup – March 22

D. C.  FEMS – You Are Not Alone!

If you have been keeping up with us the past couple of weeks, then you have seen the exposing of some serious administrative problems bubbling out from the Los Angeles City Fire Chief's office.  While the troops in the field have no doubt already suffered from internal morale and operational problems as a result of the incompetence of their chief, it all broke open for public perusal 12 days ago when it was widely reported that the LAFD had been fudging their response time averages to make it appear that they were doing a much better job than they really were.  See the Firegeezer report from March 11, LAFD Admits Inflating Response Time Results Favorably.

That seemed to be the trigger point that opened the gates and other woes, ineptitudes, and inexcusable cover-ups came tumbling out.  Beginning with more about the bogus response times, excessive repair times from the maintenance division plus extra wear and tear on the apparatus due to increased run distances, thanks to brownouts and unit shutdowns, overwhelmed the shop that already had a 30% cut in mechanics.  On top of that, some serious issues with the dispatch center that had been kept quiet also leaked out.  To review those items, see Firegeezer March 18 posting, LAFD Woes Continue .

The FD's issues with obfuscation and inability to function in the administrative level got even worse the other day when the bumbling Fire Chief Brian Cummings attempted to bury the response time flap by (illegally) shutting off the records including dispatch times and locations of emergency calls to the public and the press.  As you can probably guess, this had the opposite result and has seriously backfired on the "West Coast Ellerbe" who has been backtracking and double-clutching for the past 48 hours.

Chief Cummings attempted to justify his news blackout by ginning up a dubious excuse that HIPAA laws forbid the department from disclosing information that could expose patients' personal medical information.  And the guy attempted to use "guidelines" issued by the City Attorney to justify his coverup, issuing a brief statement to the press:

"The City Attorney has preliminarily opined that the Department should immediately cease the practice of releasing [Private Health information] to any source not specifically authorized under the Privacy Rule's treatment, billing, and operations exemption."

Oh no we didn't, said the city attorney's  chief deputy.

"The City Attorney's Office does not have a practice or pattern of ordering media blackouts,'' Carter said. "We don't give orders to the police chief, and we don't give orders to the fire chief. … The city attorney provides legal advice and recommendations to our client just as with every other department. We don't make policy."

…. effectively tossing the ball back to the mayor who was blindsided by all this because the West Coast Ellerbe, Cummings hadn't told anyone of his plans to violate the law.  As one prominent First Amendment attorney told the press, the fire department is "taking a law that was meant for something entirely different and trying to make it" fit their interests.  The mayor has apparently had enough of Cummings' free-lancing and is now distancing himself from the renegade department head.

Villagairosa and Cummings two days before
the mayor threw the fire chief under the bus.

Simone Wilson, a columnist for the LA Weekly who has been on this story from the beginning, wrote yesterday:

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who hand-picked Cummings last September and has been lovingly tugging at the chief's puppet strings ever since, totally humiliated his political plaything this afternoon by demanding — via passive-aggressive "open letter" — that the LAFD go back to its old method of full disclosure.

Mayor Villaraigosa turned on Cummings, blaming him for this whole mess in a public statement"In the absence of a written legal opinion giving your department guidance, I believe it is our duty to provide information to the media and the public. At a time when the Los Angeles Fire Department needs more transparency — not less — I am (directing) you to immediately resume releasing information that provides LAFD incident specifics without violating federal law."

Read Simone Wilson's complete article in LA Weekly online HERE.

Dave Statter has spent the night compiling a good, thorough report on this HIPAA flap and the mayor's embarrassment and posted it this morning on STATter911 HERE.  Firegeezer recommends that you click over there and read his illustrative report.

So how does this meltdown equate with DCFD Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe?  To begin with, we have two previously-admired fire departments that are staffed with proud and extremely competent firefighters and paramedics that have had to watch their respective agencies rot from within due to incompetent and self-serving chiefs and mayors.  Both fire chiefs seem to be hell-bent on saving their butts without any regard for the good of the FD or the citizens that they serve.  The two mayors, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Vincent Gray of Washington, have deliberately appointed two toadies who have no administrative competence other than to serve as the mayor's yes-man.

Separated at birth?

This ill-conceived strategy is coming back to bite them both.  But even more disappointing is the damage being done to two fine fire departments and as a result, to the citizens.

Let's get our own records into the public domain now and get this equipment checked out.  I'm going to get more coffee going.. we need it today.  See you back in the day room in a little while.

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