Pat McOsker, president of the firefighters union talks about a call he says he received from the mayor's staff after he raised concerns about firefighter response times. Robert Kovacik reports.
The President of the Los Angeles Firefighters Union has told NBC 4 that a member of the Mayor’s staff contacted him and asked him to “pipe down” about public comments he has made in the wake of budget cuts affecting the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Pat McOsker said he told the staff member he will continue to speak out so the people of Los Angeles know they are “not safe.” The Mayor’s office tells NBC 4 they have no comment about McOsker’s phone call claim.
Earlier this month, Mayor Villaraigosa publicly called out McOsker as “the guy … who put up posters claiming people would die” if the city of Los Angeles continued to ask the LAFD to make budget cuts.
McOsker’s response: “What’s happened is exactly what we said would happen.”
An NBC 4 exclusive investigation explored the death of 37-year-old Janet Baskharoun, who died from “smoke inhalation and thermal injuries” suffered during a fire at her Garth Avenue home in South Robertson in January, according to LA County coroner.
The first responders from the LAFD showed up in four minutes. That apparently wasn’t the problem.
“We were having so much trouble finding this person because of smoke was dense and thick”, said a firefighter on scene, who agreed to speak to NBC 4 on condition of anonymity. “Everyone was crawling around on their bellies trying to find this woman. Having that truck company there was vital.”
Truck companies are used in fire service to cut holes in roofs that allow firefighters to see and victims to breathe. Due to budget constraints, the closest truck company, just blocks away, was eliminated last July. The nearest one that morning had to come all the way from the Crenshaw District.
“It took nine minutes to get that replacement company there,” McOsker said. “By the time they got there, fire was blowing out of every window. By the time they got in there that’s what they found, a dead victim.”
South Robertson, including Cheviot Hills and Beverlywood, is just one of many neighborhoods McOsker claims are in danger because they lack adequate LAFD resources. Other communities of concern on McOsker’s list: Porter Ranch, West Hills, Wilmington, East Los Angeles and El Sereno.
Former LA Fire Commissioner Tom Curry said single fire houses are now protecting entire neighborhoods. If the company responds to one emergency, there is no one at the fire house to respond to the second.
“Today they get one call. That’s it. There’s no more resources,” Curry said. “There is no redundancy. And that’s important in the fire service.”
Curry agreed with McOsker’s list, but has one more community he would put at the very top.
The Pacific Palisades are the “most at risk because they are completely cut off between Sunset and PCH” now that station 69 has lost its engine company, which would have provided much needed backfill to the Palisades’ two other fire stations, 23 and 19, Curry said.
In an extensive interview with NBC 4 on March 2, LA Fire Chief Brian Cummings said of the Palisade contention: “That district has the fewest calls of any district in the City of Los Angeles.”
“Most fire stations across the country house a single fire company. We do have some stations like that in the City of Los Angeles,” Cummings said. “All through the day, there’s opportunities when there is a call in the district and a second call can come in and a company has to come from another district.”
McOsker said that is where the trouble lies.
“It’s going to take us longer to get there,” McOsker said. “People are going to suffer and lives will be lost.”
No one knows for certain if Janet Baskharoun would have been saved had a truck company arrived sooner to her home on Garth Avenue. But the firefighter who went into the burning house to try to find her said that moment continues to resonate.
“The thing that I will remember most about that is listening to that mother outside screaming,” he said. “I mean that is probably the worst feeling in the world.”
Baskharoun’s mother, Ida, spoke with NBC 4 over the phone and had a message for the LAFD: “You didn’t save my daughter. Please save all the others.”