The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to shut down 18 fire engine crews — including one posted at Fire Station 69 on Sunset Boulevard, which serves Pacific Palisades and the vicinity of Brentwood.
The move would reduce the number of staff at Station 69 by more than 40 percent, which may significantly lengthen the amount of time it takes firefighters and paramedics to respond to emergencies in the relatively geographically isolated area, officials say.
The Fire Department will transfer the affected crewmembers to other stations throughout the city.
The shut downs came with the $6.9 billion budget the City Council passed Wednesday that aims to close a $336 million revenue shortfall by cutting some fire and police services, among other measures. The Council approved the budget by a 15-0 vote.
“We needed every one of the resources we had before this budget crisis began,” said a visibly troubled Pat McOsker, president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City.
The union represents the interests of Los Angeles City firefighters.
Instructed to cut its budget by $54 million, the Fire Department created a redeployment plan that permanently eliminated nearly two dozen engine crews, or, teams that man ambulances and fire trucks.
The plan also included the elimination of 318 staff positions, but the City Council voted against the staff reductions in a compromise with union demands. The Council also agreed to put $7 million it anticipates saving in upcoming salary negotiations with UFLAC into an account designated for other Fire Department expenses.
The savings would typically have gone back into the city’s general fund.
But, “it’s not enough,” McOsker said, noting that Los Angeles has just half the number of firefighters per capita as other major U.S. cities, such as Chicago or New York.
Brentwood Community Council Chairman Jay Handal — who also sits on a citizen’s committee formed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to make budget recommendations — called the shuttering of the Engine 69 crew short-sighted.
“The Council is sacrificing public safety because the Council and the mayor cannot get a plan to fit the city’s fiscal problems,” he said.
Handal expressed concerns over brush fires, but also the serious vehicle collisions that frequently occur along Sunset Boulevard.
Only Fire Engine crews can operate the Jaws of Life.
Reduced staffing at Station 69 may mean having to call upon an available engine crew from Venice or Malibu in the event of a major collision that requires the extraction of a person from a vehicle.
Fire Station 19 in Brentwood does not have the Jaws of Life.
Getting a crew from either place would take a minimum of 15-20 minutes.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who, along with Councilman Richard Alarcon, voted against shutting down fire engine crews, expressed vehement opposition to the deployment plan precisely for that reason.
“It is unacceptable for me to shut the (Fire Engine 69 crew) down,” he said, adding, “Fire Station 69 does not have the luxury of being surrounded by five or six other fire stations.”
Fire Chief Millage Peaks said the department came up with the redeployment plan by using computer analysis to determine high- and low-priority areas. The fire chief defended the plan by saying it maintains the Department’s current level of service as much as possible, given the circumstances.
“We will do everything in our power to ensure that everyone…is safe,” Peaks said.
For his part, McOsker said he doesn’t plan to give up without a fight.
“That’s what we do,” he said. “Firefighters fight for the safety for one another and the public and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
The budget plan approved by the City Council on Wednesday won’t be put into action until Villaraigosa signs it.
He has until next week to decide whether to approve the budget or veto all or just parts of it.
Editor's Note: This article was modified from the original to reflect that Fire Station 19 in Brentwood does not have the Jaws of Life. The previous version of this story did not mention Fire Station 19.