The Los Angeles Fire Department is slowly rebuilding after firefighter ranks were thinned in 2011 amid an economic downturn, with the latest effort expected to return fire engine companies to four stations, including two in the San Fernando Valley.
A $15.5 million grant awarded this month by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants, will allow the department to add staffing for fire engines at the stations, which lost companies six years ago through budget cuts, department officials said.
The federal funding program is meant to help local fire agencies better meet national standards for firefighting.
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The two Valley postings receiving the funds are Station 75 in Mission Hills and Station 73 in Reseda, and the others are in Echo Park and Lincoln Heights. Each station will be able to staff a four-person fire engine per shift, through the grant.
The Mission Hills and Reseda stations were picked for the grant because they are the busiest in the Valley out of those that had lost an engine during the budget cuts, according to LAFD spokesman Peter Sanders.
The money will go toward getting 48 new firefighters trained by next summer, which in turn will allow the city to free up other staff to operate fire engines at the four stations, Sanders said.
Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas said, in an interview, that the fire engine companies will be able to respond to both structure fires and medical emergencies, which make up roughly 80 percent of the calls handled by the fire department.
“It is a big deal for the Los Angeles Fire Department, and it’s significant for the local communities” where the engine companies have been assigned, Terrazas said.
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The department has been working to reopen the 17 fire companies that were closed in 2011, he said, and prior to the grant, the department had restored four companies using city funds, he explained. Those previously restored companies were at stations in Woodland Hills, Pacific Palisades, Hollywood and Skid Row, he said.
City leaders this year were hoping to restore two fire engine companies, but the grant funding for the four engines, for the next three years, will be replacing that, Terrazas said.
He said he was unsure where the city funds now budgeted for the two engines will be used instead. But he will “advocate for another fire department need.”
There are “still a lot of unknowns,” and what happens to those funds is contingent on “the city deficit at the time,” he said.
“I think everybody would like to have more resources, not only the fire department — including the police department, park and recs and others,” he said. “We are very grateful that we are able to provide these resources through a grant, and it’s new resources that … the vast majority (of which) are paid for by the federal government.”
Terrazas said the department had been trying for the grant for years, and what the department got was “the largest” of “any city in the country” so far.
The grant award was welcome news for Fire Captain Mark Schroeder of the Mission Hills station, which is expected to see its per-shift staffing of six firefighters go up to about 10.
Schroeder said the grant will improve response times and make firefighters’ jobs safer. Their station is kept busy by car accident emergencies due to its proximity to several freeways, and they provide support to brush fires, he said.
“Another engine with water pumping capability is a definite bonus for this area,” Schroeder said.
The Reseda station so far this year has responded to 2,370 medical emergency calls, and 18 structure fires, while the Mission Hills station responded to 1,865 emergency medical service calls and 11 structure fires, during the same period, according to data provided on the Los Angeles Fire Department website.