On Jan. 24, the Los Angeles County Fire Department held a press meeting led by Councilmember Janice Hahn and Fire Chief Dayrl Osby to discuss the upcoming Ballot Measure FD, which would authorize the district to levy an annual parcel tax of $0.06 per square foot of structural improvements on property up to 100,000 square feet and excluding parking areas.
The measure will read on the March ballot as follows:
“Shall an ordinance ensuring local firefighter/paramedic emergency response, involving house fires, wildfires, heart attacks, strokes, and car accidents, to hire/train firefighter/paramedics, upgrade/replace aging firefighter safety equipment, vehicles, facilities, life-saving rescue tools, and emergency communications technology, by levying 6 cents per square foot of certain parcel improvements, providing $134 million annually, limited to 2% annual adjustment, until ended by voters, exempting low-income seniors, with independent citizens oversight, be adopted?”
Hahn, urging its passage, said since 2008 the LA County Fire Department has seen a 50% increase in emergency medical incidents. But at the same time, we’ve only been able to increase our department’s paramedic squad by 5%.
“That means we have really stretched thin the capacity of our paramedics to respond to calls about strokes, heart attacks, and other medical emergencies,” Hahn said. “At the same time, our firefighters are dealing with a new fire reality. Climate change has created drier, hotter conditions, which means we’re seeing a nearly year-round fire season, with bigger, faster-moving, and more extreme wildfires.”
The increasing frequency, risk, and severity of what are now annual wildfires has caused fire departments statewide to become unable to respond like they have in the past.
Previously, firefighters were able to rely on what we know as “mutual aid” from other fire departments throughout the region, throughout California, to help battle some of the biggest fires in LA County. “Now, because of dry windy conditions everywhere, we have fires that have been burning simultaneously across the state, limiting the amount of firefighters available to come help LA County,” Hahn said.
“That morning that the Woolsey Fire started (Nov. 8, 2018), the Camp Fire started in northern California and devastated the entire town of Paradise. And two minutes before the Woolsey Fire was reported, the Hill Fire broke out in Ventura County, and by the time the Woolsey Fire started spreading, there were simply not enough firefighters from other departments to come to our aid. All of these issues have strained our county fire department’s budget. And that’s meant that our firefighters have been asked to work longer hours in difficult conditions without all of the tools and support that they should have to do their jobs.”
Unlike some of the other departments in the county of Los Angeles, LACoFD is not funded out of the county’s general fund. “The Fire Department is funded through property taxes collected within the LA County fire district. That is the only way they receive revenue. Voters have not approved additional funding for the fire district in more than 20 years,” Hahn said.
“We’ve determined that the best option would be to ask the voters in the fire district if they would be willing to approve a parcel tax on the upcoming March ballot.”
Critics of the measure have said the measure would increase housing and retail prices, as well as an increase in utilities. Chief Osby however, maintains that the situation is urgent.
“For years we’ve been understaffed, underequipped, but we’ve done all that we could do professionally provide the best services we can,” Osby said. “Over the last decade, our call volume has almost doubled, and our staffing for paramedics has only gone up by 5%. In addition to the increase in call volume, we’ve had a significant increase in wildfires.”
Osby notes that this is unsustainable.
“We have the best trained firefighters in the world from my perspective. It’s our responsibility to do all that we can to ensure they’re properly staffed, properly trained, and properly equipped to do their job.”
The staffing shortages as well as the increase in distress calls and frequent wildfires, as well as aging equipment has created many complications for LACoFD.
“In addition to the staffing shortages we have, unfortunately many times as an organization to ensure that all the units are staffed, ensure that all the fire stations are opened each and every day, myself as well as my administration were forced to recall and call firefighters back against their will involuntarily, to ensure that our stations are staffed,” Osby said.
Hahn added that, “The communication systems our firefighters rely on during emergencies are 30 years old and incompatible with wireless networks and digital systems. Many of our fire engines are more than 20 years old, and they’re getting costly to repair and maintain.”
The Chief’s top priorities were for Measure FD to pass, to hire more firefighters and paramedics, replace aging apparatuses, and update their long-outdated 911 system at dispatch centers.
“That system is old. It was implemented in the ‘80s, it’s a DOS System,” Osby said. “When we first implemented our 911 system upgrade in the 80’s, it was based on the fact that if you dialed 911, because that’s before we had cell phones, in many instances people would call from fixed locations, and then we would have their addresses and appropriate information that would arrive on our computers for us to dispatch our firefighters.
“But now, we receive about 85% of our calls via cellphones. That computer does not have the capacity or the ability to read that kind of information. Which means that our dispatchers have to take seconds to get additional information from the caller to give our firefighter-paramedics before they respond.”
Osby also noted, “In this profession, as it pertains to an emergency incident, seconds and minutes matter. It’s really up to the voters to make the determination what they want this department to look like, and the type of services that they feel that they need. And as mentioned in Measure FD, it would take a two-thirds voter approval.”
For more information, visit https://wearelacountyfire.org/