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LAFD Shortens New Recruit Training To 14 Weeks As It Braces For Terminations Over Vax Mandate

An image of the Los Angeles Fire Department logo, embroidered on a firefighter's sleeve
The L.A. City Fire Department, considered one of the premier fire agencies in the country, is cutting back its training for new recruits.
(Libby Denkman
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Bracing for the possible terminations of firefighters who refuse to follow the city of L.A.’s vaccination mandate, Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas has shortened the training period for new recruits from 22 weeks to 14 weeks.

The chief told us this week the change will “pump out more firefighters,” heading off a potential staffing shortage.

The move raised concerns about whether new firefighters would be adequately prepared for their jobs.

“I would be worried that it's compromising safety for probationary firefighters and for the people of Los Angeles,” said Andrew Glazier, who served on the Fire Commission until earlier this year. “How is this going to impact operational readiness and effectiveness?”

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Terrazas acknowledged that “[i]t’ll be a challenge. It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “But we’ll manage it.”

Terrazas has also asked Mayor Eric Garcetti for funding for another recruit class in the next six months – in addition to the three already scheduled. Each class graduates about 50 new firefighters.

It’ll be a challenge. It’s not going to be easy. But we’ll manage it.
— LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas on the shortening of training.

Garcetti supports the chief’s decision to cut back on training, according to a spokesman.

The United Fire Fighters of Los Angeles City union did not return calls seeking comment.

‘I Don’t Want To Lose One Firefighter’

The department, which has about 3,500 employees, could lose a significant number of them who insist they should have a choice whether or not to get jabbed.

The chief said on Monday that 75 people have been placed on unpaid leave and face termination because they refuse to get vaccinated, request a medical or religious exemption, or agree to a testing regimen. Another 37 have been put on notice that they too will be placed on unpaid leave if they don’t comply.

“This number changes daily as they comply with the mandate,” Terrazas said. “We expect this number to decrease as we move along in the process.”

Another 345 people have requested religious or medical exemptions. The city’s Personnel Department will decide whether to approve those requests in the next few weeks, Terrazas said. Those who are denied can appeal to the chief.

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“I hope firefighters’ commitment to public safety will outweigh any resistance to the vaccine,” he said. “I don’t want to lose one firefighter.”

Almost everybody at the fire department who is resisting taking the vaccine is a firefighter, according to the chief.

Terrazas said formal termination proceedings have begun for the first firefighter, and that the process of firing employees could take months, depending on how many do not comply with the mandate.

From 880 Hours To 560 Hours

Under the chief’s new order, the amount of training for recruits will drop from about 880 hours to about 560 hours.

The department is delaying some training to compensate for part of that cutback. For example, firefighters will get their one week of training on how to drive a fire truck after they start on the job.

The department is eliminating other training, including a week spent visiting various types of buildings firefighters might encounter during an emergency and a week-long ethical decision-making class, according to Deputy Chief Stephen Gutierrez, who oversees training. Ethics will be “sprinkled” across the 14 weeks, he said.

I hope firefighters’ commitment to public safety will outweigh any resistance to the vaccine.
— LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas

In addition, three weeks of testing tacked on to the end of training will be conducted as skills are taught, Gutierrez said.

Recruits will still learn the basics: how to handle a water hose, an ax, and a breathing apparatus, and how to operate inside a burning building or at a car crash and how to handle hazardous materials, he said.

“The fundamentals that they’re covering and what they’re going over haven’t changed,” he said. “The level of training they are getting will provide them the ability to be safe and effective as an entry level firefighter.”

Some Training Not Practical: The Deputy Chief

The L.A. City Fire Department is considered one of the premier fire agencies in the country. Its previous 22 weeks of training was among the longest in the nation.

At 14 weeks, it comes closer to the length of time other departments spend training new recruits.

The L.A. County Fire Department and the Orange County Fire Authority train for 16 weeks, and the San Diego City Fire Department training lasts 18 weeks.

The minimum amount of training for state certification as a firefighter is 8.6 weeks.

As the academy has grown over the years, some of the training has “not necessarily been practical,” Gutierrez said. For example, recruits spent a week rehearsing a show of skills during graduation ceremonies. That’s been cut, he said.

Concern From A San Diego Battalion Chief

San Diego’s department has no plans to cut back its 18-week training academy, according to Battalion Chief Willie Melendez. “We’re not cutting any corners,” he told us.

Melendez wonders about L.A.’s cutback. “I always worry about what that looks like two to three to four years down the road as far as that knowledge base or what got lost” for new firefighters, he said.

San Diego did make one change to deal with both a nationwide reduction in people applying to be firefighters and the possible loss of people who refuse to follow his city’s vaccine mandate: it’s conducting three academies in a row to speed up the delivery of new firefighters.

The level of training they are getting will provide them the ability to be safe and effective as an entry level firefighter.
— LAFD Deputy Chief Stephen Gutierrez

The slash in academy training hours may indicate the department was wasting resources spending too many weeks training, Grazier said.

Shortening the hours is not necessarily a bad idea, L.A. Fire Commissioner Rebecca Ninburg said. “There are ways to do this where you have a truncated academy that is just as effective, depending on who you are bringing in.”

For example, the department could hire firefighters and paramedics from other agencies who need minimal additional training, she said.

But the department has refused to do that, insisting it trains everyone itself.

Depending on how many firefighters get fired for refusing to get vaccinated, the chief may be forced to change that longstanding practice.

Terrazas said resistance has slowly declined, but the issue has been “polarizing” the department.

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