Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin said Wednesday the fire department has a "growing problem" of resorting to extending the shifts of firefighters to remedy staffing shortages brought on by a hiring freeze and slow recruitment practices.
"The fire department is shrinking and, to cover gaps, we are forcing firefighters to routinely work consecutive 24-hour overtime shifts to the point of exhaustion," Bonin said. "That is a dangerous and extreme way of addressing inadequate staffing. A realistic, long-term hiring plan is long overdue."
A "recall system" typically reserved for emergencies was used heavily this past summer by the fire department to staff the city's 109 neighborhood fire stations, with personnel just getting off their shifts being asked to stay on longer to make up for staff vacancies, Bonin said.
Firefighter hiring practices have not kept pace with need, and the department is only just starting to staff-up again after a five-year hiring freeze, according to Bonin.
"We are already understaffed in many of our neighborhood fire stations, and the trajectory of a shrinking department is chilling," Bonin said.
The issue is the subject of a motion Bonin introduced Wednesday asking for an explanation of how the the department ended up short on staff.
The councilman said he wants to look at potentially expanding recruit training classes from the existing size of 70, scheduling earlier start dates for training and staffing light force companies with probationary firefighters.
The department is expecting to hire 55 of the 70 recruits in June 2014, which is too slow to return firefighter ranks to a sufficient number, he said.
In 2008-09, the fire department had around 3,600 firefighters, and now it has 3,100. Getting back to its previous level would take until April 2018, based on the current rate of hiring, Bonin's motion stated.
The motion drew praise from the firefighter union.
"On behalf of the nearly 3,100 firefighters and paramedics in Los Angeles city, I thank council member Bonin for recognizing that our department has been decimated without hiring a single firefighter during the past five years," UFLAC President Frank Lima said.
Bonin's motion has been assigned to the City Council's Public Safety Committee and the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee.