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L.A. Fire Department to Search Within Own Beleaguered Ranks for New Data Expert (Uh-Oh)

Chief Cummings and Mayor V are leading the LAFD on a legacy of incompetency.

FlickrChief Cummings and Mayor V are leading the LAFD on a legacy of incompetency.

Last time the L.A. City Fire Department relied on its own staff to keep track of emergency response times and other crucial data, here's what happened:

Firefighters, office workers, dispatchers, etc. -- working on a dinosauric computer system -- hastily lumped calls that took six minutes into the "five minutes or less" column and didn't bother to categorize them as "emergency" or "non-emergency," among other slips.

This led Fire Chief Brian Cummings and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to completely humiliate themselves...

... by announcing that L.A. fire trucks had been making the five-minute mark about 80 percent of the time since 2008. They said recent budget cuts had had almost no effect on this figure -- and neither would another proposed "streamlining" of LAFD resources in 2011.

Based on this information, the L.A. City Council approved the dangerous cuts.

Oops. Since then, a "citizen's audit" and an official audit by L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel have revealed that the LAFD's under-five-minute responses have in fact sunk to an abysmal rate of 60 percent. And the cuts have been making things worse.

Even more frightening is that officials apparently have zero precautions in place to ensure this data is recorded properly in the future.

About three months ago, in a scramble to polish the department's almost irreversibly tarnished reputation, Mayor Villaraigosa appointed nationally renowned data expert Jeffrey Godown (brains behind the LAPD's excellent Compstat system) to pull the LAFD out of the dark ages.

But now, according to the Los Angeles Times, Godown is leaving for a better job at UC San Francisco. And his outlook on the state of LAFD data analysis is grim:

The department should not release any new analyses of its emergency response times "until they are 100% sure that their ... data is as accurate as it can be," Godown said. "And at this time it is not."

... A Compstat-like program would help the Fire Department, Godown said, but he added that the first priority should be to ensure that the data being analyzed are accurate.

In the only report he's released during his three months as LAFD damage-controller, Godown wrote to the mayor:

At this time, there are two sworn employees who are assigned to the planning section who are responsible for running the system. Both employees are assigned to the unit due to operational necessity. Both have limited training and understanding of the data analysis process. This is due because they were placed in the position for which they were not originally trained to handle. Most of the training occurred on the job, with little or no follow up training. Additionally there are many other supervisors who are engaged in developing other areas of technology related to data analysis. This is problematic when everyone is not on the same page.

Ouch. In other words, the department is in shambles, and Godown is getting out of dodge before he drowns in an avalanche of '90s-era software and possessed printer paper.

Which makes today's news on the search for Godown's successor all the more baffling: "A spokesman for the mayor's office said a replacement for Godown ... would probably be an existing Fire Department employee," reports the Times.

Mayoral spokesman Peter Sanders confirms to LA Weekly that by his understanding, "the Fire Department will assign someone internally."

So instead of conducting a much-needed national search for the rare 21st century mind who could tie up the massive loose end that is the LAFD's data analysis system, the guy (or gal) to save the department from years of incompetency will be some staffer who was standing by while this whole disaster went down.

How reassuring.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]