County supervisors approve plan to assess firefighter needs

Structure burns in Woolsey Fire in Malibu. photo for The Signal by Jeff Zimmerman.

County supervisors want to know what fire officials need to fight deadly wildfires such as the Woolsey Fire and they’re paying $4.5 million to get that answer.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a recommendation to instruct the fire chief, in coordination with the county’s chief executive officer and county lawyers, to hire a consultant who would conduct a one-year public outreach project.

Such a project would “create awareness of the new realities” faced by the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Supervisors Kathryn Bager and Janice Hahn, who wrote the recommendation, say those realities include financial realities that affect the equipment, infrastructure and the staffing of paramedics and firefighters needed for the job of battling wildfires.

The new reality also calls for sustaining the current high level of readiness of firefighters and that they remain prepared to effectively deal with the ongoing threat of wildfires.

“Recent deadly fires remind us all that preparation, education and readiness are key to saving lives and property,” Barger spokesman Tony Bell said Tuesday.

It’s the hope of supervisors that the outreach project would gather input from residents about their experiences in recent fires, including the Woolsey Fire, as well as day-to-day 9-1-1 emergency medical responses, in order to fully assess the expanded needs of the Fire Department.

Such a project would serve to educate residents and local community leaders who are protected by the Fire Department about the challenges the department faces.

The recommendation also calls for approving an adjustment made to the budget that would transfer $4.5 million from the Obligated Fund Balance Committed for Infrastructure Growth to the Services and Supplies Appropriation within the Fire Department’s Special District Fund.

And, lastly, the move would require the fire chief to report back to the board in six months with a status, as well as a final report at the end of the project.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department provides 24-hour emergency response, including fire and paramedic services, to more than 4 million people living and working in 59 of the county’s 88 cities, the unincorporated communities and the city of La Habra in neighboring Orange County.

The department’s vast 2,307-square-mile jurisdiction also includes 72 miles of coastline.

Supervisors called the Woolsey Fire “a textbook example of the extraordinary – and new — challenge our firefighters must confront.”

In their notes to fellow supervisors reviewing the recommendation, Barger and Hahn pointed out that the devastating Woolsey wildfire was “the worst to hit Los Angeles County in modern history,” noting it raged for almost two weeks, burning through 97,000 acres including pristine open space in the Santa Monica Mountains.

It destroyed 2,000 structures and displaced thousands of residents.

According to the needs assessment performed earlier this year, the cost for replacing old fire engines, purchasing additional helicopters and replacing their communications system is over $170 million.

The cost for repairing fire stations – and in some cases replacing fire stations that are over 50 years old – is close to $750 million.

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