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With Hundreds Home Quarantining Due To Omicron, LA’s Fire And Police Face An ‘Incredibly Tough Moment’

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks at a podium, flanked to our left by LAPD Chief Michel Moore and to our right LA Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas. Two other fire department staff stand behind Terrazas, and a fire engine and ambulance are behind them.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, flanked by LAPD Chief Moore (l) and Fire Chief Terrazas (r) at Fire Station #4 in downtown L.A.
(Frank Stoltze
/
LAist)
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Hundreds of LAPD officers and L.A. firefighters are quarantining at home with COVID-19, reflecting how the highly contagious omicron variant is sweeping through public safety communities like everywhere else.

“These are big numbers,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said Thursday as he was flanked by LAPD Chief Michel Moore and Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas at a downtown fire station. “The omicron variant has taken off like wildfire,” he said, remarking that this is an “incredibly tough moment.”

Garcetti said he’s authorized more overtime for both departments.

The fire department has 254 employees off the job, with 237 of them in isolation, 17 at home due to complications of COVID-19, and two in the hospital, according to spokesperson Cheryl Getuiza. Terrazas said that's the highest number since the pandemic began. Just two weeks ago, the number was 24. The LAFD employs nearly 3,800 people.

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At the LAPD, 505 of the department's roughly 12,000 employees are out with COVID-19 – a fivefold increase over the last week, Moore said. One LAPD officer is hospitalized in “extremely grave condition,” according to the chief.

‘When You Call For Help…We Will Respond’

Terrazas has cancelled all firefighters' vacations and forced some to work two 24-hour shifts in a row. All fire stations are open, but some are operating with fewer trucks and ambulances.

He sought to allay any concerns about public safety.

“The LAFD maintains adequate daily staffing to ensure a sufficient number of ambulances and fire trucks are ready to respond at all times,” Terrazas said. “When you call for help from the LAFD, we will respond.”

At the same time, average response times have ticked up slightly – 13 seconds for “critical advanced life-support” responses and six seconds for structure fires, Terrazas said.

To stem the spread of omicron in his department, the chief has ordered everyone to wear a KN95 or N95 mask and requested the county health department to allow people who contract COVID-19 to isolate for seven instead of 10 days.

The Police Chief: ‘You Will See Some Delay In Routine Calls’

LAPD Chief Moore said his department is answering 911 calls and dispatching patrol cars, while noting that “you will see some delay in routine calls.”

Department employees spend an average of three weeks recovering from COVID-19, Moore said.

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The LAPD has shut down its training academy after it saw “a number” of breakthrough cases among nearly 300 new recruits, Moore said. All recruits are required to be vaccinated. They are now receiving instruction virtually at home.

“It is a setback, but it allows us to protect the entire academy training staff,” he said. “We will continue to make those types of adjustments moving forward.”

At various times over the past week, the LAPD’s three jails have stopped taking in new people because of an increase in cases among inmates, Moore said.

It's unclear why the omicron variant has spread faster at the fire department than the LAPD. But firefighters do live together for days at a time, and most of their work involves responding to calls for medical help.

A ‘Very High Standard’ For Approving Vaccine Exemption Requests

As he described the dramatic increase in cases among public safety workers, Garcetti sought to “set Angelenos’ minds at ease,” echoing Moore and Terrazas in asserting that their agencies “have maintained staffing levels that are needed to keep Angelenos safe.”

But more staffing challenges could be on the horizon for both departments, which have been dealing with vocal minorities of vaccine resisters.

At the LAPD, 1,628 employees — 1,398 sworn officers and 230 civilians, according to spokesperson Capt. Stacy Spell — have applied for religious or medical exemptions. At the LAFD, 377 staff — all but 20 of them firefighters, according to a spokesperson — have applied for one of the exemptions. If the applications are not approved, the employees will either have to get vaccinated or be fired.

The vast majority of requests are for religious exemptions, and Garcetti said there will be a “very high standard” for getting one.

The fire department already has placed 41 people who refuse to get vaccinated or ask for an exemption on unpaid leave; they now face termination.

The LAPD has so far fired one person. Spell said there are currently another 11 employees facing a termination recommendation.

The process for terminating a civil service employee, including appeals, can take months.

What questions or concerns do you have about civics and democracy in Southern California?
Frank Stoltze explores who has power and how they use it at a time when our democratic systems have been under threat.