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Did the Firefighters' Union Take Advocacy Too Far?

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At Fire Station 63 in Venice | Photo by Jonathan Alcorn

At Fire Station 63 in Venice | Photo by Jonathan Alcorn
First there were signs in front of fire stations (see above) and now a mailer using images from the Chatsworth train crash (see below) that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is calling "tasteless, offensive and misleading."

The United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, the union representing LAFD members, has been in a battle against Villaraigosa about service cuts. Facing a massive budget deficit, Villaraigosa wants all departments to "share the sacrafice" and make cuts. That includes the fire department which is now cutting service back by 87 firefighters throughout the city on a rotating basis. The number of personnel is equivalent to 15 trucks and nine ambulances, says the union.

And those were the numbers used on a flyer sent to various residents. "The Los Angeles City Council is considering cutbacks to your fire departments that will be devastating for public and firefighter safety," it read. "Budget cuts mean less firefighters to respond to emergencies and catastrophes."

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The signs in front fire stations already had Villaraigosa on the defense, but when the flyers began to appear yesterday afternoon in mailboxes, he called for a press conference (the transcript is not available yet). "Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will hold a news conference to respond to an offensive, tasteless and misleading attack mailer issued to LA residents by the union representing LA City firefighters in an attempt to advance its contract negotiating position," an advisory read.

Both sides of the issue do have points. As a reporter who happened to be near the crash and arrived early enough to be asked by firefighters in carrying people to the triage area, I can attest to the fact that I witnessed zero firefighters standing around. Every single one of them was working hard in triage or on the train itself. The potential of 87 less firefighters would be a huge loss. However, one of California's major assets in the public safety field is mutual aid. With 87 firefighters less within LAFD, there's another 87 that could have responded from other agencies such as LA County, Ventura County, CalFire and federal agencies.

250 firefighters responded to the disaster--there are about 1,100 on duty at any time within city limits. In the end, every minute truly counts when responding to an emergency, but in regards to the flyer's taste, each side just has to agree to disagree. Response times increased at affected fire stations, but the city says response will be under seven minutes.