Someone needs to pull aside Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Brian Cummings and give him a few pointers on talking to the press… or maybe he needs a refresher course in owning up to things.
When L.A. Weekly approached Cummings last week and asked why firefighters were suffering from low morale, he ignored the question and cited unnamed “reports” that show there's a low morale epidemic spreading far and wide in the United States.
“There are morale issues across the country,” Cummings said.
The chief's answer was interesting since he didn't dispute there's low morale in the Los Angeles Fire Department, which we heard over and over again when we talked with firefighters for this week's news story, “LAFD Response-Time Scandal.”
We googled “reports” and “low morale” to find recent academic studies or newspaper stories about this epidemic, but we couldn't find anything easily.
There were stories about low morale on Wall Street, at the Department of Homeland Security, and at Yahoo. And guess what was an often-mentioned cause of low morale?
“The guys feel a certain sense of betrayal,” Captain Frank Lima, a vice-president at United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, referring to Cummings' highly public role in supporting budget cuts for the LAFD last year, tells the Weekly. “Guys aren't complainers, but that's the feeling out there.”
“Our rank and file has a lot of concerns about the chief,” says an LAFD veteran with over 20 years, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. “He's just not going to do what's in the best interest of the fire department.”
Another anonymous veteran says firefighters do “not wholeheartedly” trust Cummings' word.
That same veteran adds that the rank and file don't have much respect for Cummings' boss, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “He's doing things to make himself look good for his next [political] opportunity.”
A third anonymous veteran tells us the Villaraigosa-appointed Fire Commission, the civilian board that oversees the department, hasn't helped morale either.
“We haven't heard anything from [the fire commission],” says the firefighter. “They've gone along with all the cuts, and they haven't said 'boo' about it. It's as if they've been hiding and hoping the spotlight won't be turned on them.”
The veteran also says morale has “never been lower” in the department and both Cummings and Villaraigosa are to blame.
“The guys in the department don't think much of [the mayor],” says the firefighter. “He knowingly did what he did. He can't escape the fact that he knew what was going to happen with his budget cuts.”
In the end, it doesn't matter if there's low morale in New York City, Ohio, or Alabama. A severe low morale problem is happening right here in Los Angeles at the fire department. Will Cummings and Villaraigosa do anything about it? Or will the chief just spin more lame excuses?
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.