Union Leader Blames Budget Cuts for Firefighters' Injuries During Church Blaze

Official says damage could have been minimized if a nearby fire station was fully staffed

By Samantha Tata, Brandon Lowrey and Robert Kovacik
|  Wednesday, Oct 9, 2013  |  Updated 10:52 AM PDT
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Fire officials are investigating a blaze that destroyed a historic church in South LA, apparently caused when a church worker turned on a faulty heater. Meanwhile, the fire department's union says the response to the blaze may have been hampered by budget cuts. Robert Kovacik reports from South LA for NBC4 News at 11 p.m. Oct. 8, 2013.

Fire officials are investigating a blaze that destroyed a historic church in South LA, apparently caused when a church worker turned on a faulty heater. Meanwhile, the fire department's union says the response to the blaze may have been hampered by budget cuts. Robert Kovacik reports from South LA for NBC4 News at 11 p.m. Oct. 8, 2013.

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2 Firefighters Rescued in Church Fire

The firefighters were trapped under rubble after a roof collapse at the South LA church. Toni Guinyard reports for the NBC4 News at Noon on Tuesday Oct. 8, 2013.

Historic Crouch Memorial Church Once Championed Prohibition

The century-old church that was lost in a dangerous Tuesday morning fire in South Los Angeles was a community landmark. Patrick Healy reports from South Los Angeles for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2013.
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The head of the Los Angeles firefighters’ union Tuesday blamed department-wide cutbacks for injuries suffered by three first responders battling a church fire, which he alleges was able to get out of control because of a slow response.

Flames ripped through the all-wooden Crouch Memorial Pentecostal Church of God in Christ Tuesday morning, its roof collapsing as firefighters battled the blaze that investigators believe started in the attic.

Two firefighters were trapped under burning debris on the church’s second floor, LAFD Capt. Jaime Moore said. One was taken to a hospital, and the other was treated on scene.

MORE: Heater May Have Sparked Church Fire | Photos: Crews Battle Church Fire

A third firefighter may have suffered electrical shock as he worked with a ladder pipe, Moore said.

Frank Lima, the head of the union United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, said his members' injuries and the damage to the church were consequences of cutbacks at a nearby fire station - and department-wide.

"The fire that we faced today... unveiled a problem of permanent closures that the fire department faced due to budget cuts several years ago, back in 2008," he said.

The department has lost some 700 firefighters to attrition and has not hired a new firefighter in five years, he said. The agency had about 3,800 firefighters then, and has roughly 3,100 now.

"Our firefighters, the citizens and members of that church would have had better odds had (the nearby fire station been restored to its 2008 staffing levels). That's a fact."

More than 150 firefighters took nearly four hours to extinguish the blaze, which broke out in a densely populated neighborhood. Firefighters protected nearby homes from blowing embers.

Investigators said the cause of the fire has not been determined, but the pastor’s theory that it was sparked after he turned on a months-dormant wall heater is possible.

A multi-agency House of Worship Arson Task Force will be part of the investigation, a standard procedure involving church fires.

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