Anxiety Over LBFD Changes
From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 2
By Les Robbins
It has been a long time since I have written an article for the Beachcomber that has evoked as much response as my last one did. The article dealt with the proposed reduction in paramedic services provided by the fire department and during this past week I have been inundated with emails from readers who are upset by the proposed gutting of the paramedic service in this city.
I have received emails and comments from a variety of fire department members past and present and they ranged from retired fire chiefs to current firefighter-paramedics working in the department. I have still not found anyone, with the exception of the fire chief and his command staff, who feel this program has any merit whatsoever. I also have sources that have told me the previous fire chief took retirement (or was forced out) because he refused to shepherd such a bad idea.
I originally hoped to be able to cover this topic in one or two articles but that is just not possible. This will be the second article on this subject and I can predict at least one more after this one.
There are a multitude of reasons why this proposal is a bad idea but to really understand the impact of removing one of the two paramedics assigned to the squad you need to see exactly what has happened to our fire department in the past 60 years. Today the sworn complement of the fire department is the same as it was 60 years ago. I repeat we have the same number of sworn firefighters in this year’s city budget as we did in the 1950s.
Back then the total number of calls for service on an annual basis were about 5,000. Today that number is in excess of 60,000. Furthermore today we have a myriad of hazardous materials and chemicals that complicate the process of firefighting and we have many more automobiles on our streets and highways and thus many more serious injuries that result from traffic accidents. Oh, and let us not forget the fact that the number of high rise structures in the downtown area are ten times as great as they were in the 50s and 60s.
In the 50s and 60s the City of Long Beach had a very small percentage of people living under the federal poverty level. Today that number approaches 50 percent and in vast portions of our city dwellings are much older, more crowded and much more inclined to need the services of our public safety personnel.
Today the total number of sworn personnel on duty each day is approximately 137. This morning I woke up and turned on The Channel 5 News and watched a school cafeteria fire that was taking place in Montebello where the L.A. County Fire Department was on scene. When the KTLA reporter asked how many personnel were working the blaze that was confined to one 16,000 sq. ft. cafeteria he said 150. That is more than our entire department can muster at any given point in time. To me, as a retired public safety officer, this is pretty scary.
While I agree with Fire Chief DuRee that, “it isn’t like it used to be,” my response given what has already transpired with fire department staffing and budgets, this is not the time to make further cuts and reductions, which is exactly what this program is designed to really do.
In my next article I will discuss another aspect of this issue, which is the funding source for most of the fire department’s budget shortfall that is already written into law, which our mayor and city council is siphoning off to use for other purposes.