LOS ANGELES >> A Los Angeles City Council committee on Wednesday recommended the acquisition of a seventh fire department helicopter to stave off a recurrence of a recent situation, when the LAFD had to fight two fires simultaneously with half its fleet grounded.
Councilman Mike Bonin co-introduced a motion asking for a report from the General Services Division on the state of the helicopter fleet after only three of the LAFD’s six helicopters were available when brush fires broke out in Mandeville Canyon and Sylmar on May 28. No property was damaged as a result of the blazes, but Bonin said he was “disturbed” by the depleted state of the LAFD’s fleet that day.
Bonin did not hide his frustration at a June meeting of the Public Safety Committee when GSD representatives showed up without having completed the report and only offered a verbal report.
“I really appreciate that everybody is trying to be polite and collaborative. I’m not in the polite and collaborative mood on this issue,” Bonin said then. “When we are down that low, that freaks me out. This is for me — and I know you all know this because it is for you, as well – but it’s a matter of life and death.”
Because the report wasn’t finished, the committee continued discussion of the motion until today. The GSD has now completed the report, which includes the recommendation that the fleet be increased to seven helicopters from six.
The committee signed off on recommendations to increase the fleet to seven helicopters, as well as hire two more helicopter mechanics and add a swing or weekend maintenance work shift, and forwarded the motion to the Budget and Finance Committee with a request that the chief administrative officer provide a cost estimate on purchasing a new chopper and implementing the other recommendations.
Members of the LAFD and GSD told the committee in June that the general goal is for the fleet to always be operating at least at 75 percent, but backlogs in maintenance and situations outside of anyone’s control sometimes result in the fleet going down to 50 percent.
The fleet has only been at 50 percent capacity 9 percent of the time this year, according to the verbal report.
“I remain concerned at the pace at which we are repairing the LAFD equipment,” Bonin said.