Embattled Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings agreed to step down Thursday. His departure is in part due to the LAFD’s poor response times to emergency calls. Mayor Eric Garcetti has assembled a committee to find a successor. Gordon Tokumatsu reports from Van Nuys for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 10, 2013.
Los Angeles city Fire Chief Brian Cummings will retire, effective Feb. 1, Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Thursday, bringing to an end a tenure marked by clashes with the city council over the data used to evaluate response times.
Garcetti said in a press release that he has appointed James Featherstone as acting chief of the LAFD effective Nov. 1. Featherstone, a former LAFD captain, is head of the city's Emergency Management Department, where he will return after a permanent fire chief is found.
“I thank Chief Cummings for his service to Los Angeles," Garcetti said. "My agenda for the Fire Department is focused on reducing response times, improving technology, to make sure we’re prepared for every emergency."
The union that represents rank-and-file firefighters, who have been up in arms over deep budget cuts in recent years, praised the mayor’s move.
“We support the leadership change of the fire department,” said Frank Lima, the president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City. “It leads me to believe that the mayor’s going to fulfill his commitment to the fire department as a top priority. We’re in desperate need of strong leadership.”
Cummings, who retires after 32 years with the LAFD, gave a nod to the firefighters who make up the department, saying he is committed to its on-going success.
"Serving those who, live, work and play in Los Angeles is an extremely rewarding experience," he said. "It is a profound honor to work with and lead you incredible men and women of the LAFD.
"I will retire confident that Los Angeles’ strong support of Public Safety and the Los Angeles Fire Department will afford the continued provision of service befitting the City of Angels."
He joined the department in February 1980 as a firefighter before promotions to engineer and captain. He became assistant fire chief in 2010 before he was appointed LAFD chief in September 2011 by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Cummings was born in Los Angeles and his father was a 30-year veteran of the LAFD.
The news comes as the department has been under scrutiny for exaggerating response times to make it look like firefighters were responding quicker than they were to emergencies.
The admission followed a city audit that found the department had no consistent method or standard to measure emergency and non-emergency incidents.
Cummings apologized for the misinformation, but defended the department's record under severe budget constraints. Members of the council said they would not have voted for fire department cutbacks had they received accurate information regrading response times.
Cummings, at the scene of a church fire Tuesday when two of his department's members were rescued by colleagues, told NBC4 he was not concerned about his job. The head of the firefighters' union blamed cutbacks for the crew member's injuries.
"I have never been concerned about my job," Cummings said. "I'm waiting hear what his decision is and I stand by the mayor's right to make that decision. He's my boss. I work for him. He's committed to public safety and he'll make sure this department and this city has the best fire department in the world."
In May of last year, Cummings apologized for "inappropriate" photos he allowed to be taken of him in front of a city fire engine. More than a decade ago, when Cummings was a captain, he allowed pictures to be taken of himself with a bikini-clad woman and firefighters under his command, in front of a fire engine.
He called his actions "clearly irresponsible and inappropriate."
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