The city of Los Angeles' budget-fixing cutbacks for the city fire department could harm a tool firefighters across the region have relied on for years — mutual aid.

City fire union President Pat McOsker says that with 15, four-person engine companies and nine ambulances taken out of duty each day in the city, the ability of the Los Angeles Fire Department to send rescuers to help neighboring departments in need will be severely hampered if not shut down.

“The statewide mutual-aid system is really in jeopardy,” McOsker says. “We've had a 10 percent reduction in our response capacity in terms of the number of firefighters on the street everyday. Mutual-aid agreements don't require you to respond. The request has to be a approved by the local agency, and nobody is going to send rigs if they don't have the resources to protect their own communities.”

A department as big as the LAFD can usually handle its business, however, except in extreme cases such as brush fires, riots and earthquakes. Still, McOsker notes, mutual aid is traded every day along the border of the city. For example, he says, downtown companies help Vernon-based firefighters nearby, and vice versa, fairly regularly, and the same can he said for Beverly Hills companies and those that serve county areas near the city.

“At Fire Station 33 [downtown] we'd go to Vernon,” he says. “It happens all over the place.”

And while Mayor Villaraigosa announced a few days into the Station Fire that he was suspending the cutbacks, McOsker says that redeployment only lasted three days. Now, he notes, some stations are an engine down at “the height of brush-fire season.”

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