Councilmember Mike Bonin was at the command post during the Mandeville Fire on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend (May 28), where he learned that half of the helicopters in the Los Angeles Fire Department’s fleet were grounded because of a maintenance backlog when the fire broke out, burning up to 55 acres in Brentwood’s Mandeville Canyon. LAFD was also simultaneously fighting a fire in Sylmar.
Of the four water-dropping helicopters in the department’s fleet, only two were operational. The others were “receiving maintenance and due back soon,” LAFD spokesman Jeremy Oberstein said.
Los Angeles City Council members said the reduced number of helicopters may have hampered the response to the fires. Because of the shortage of available helicopters, the Fire Department couldn’t tackle both fires “simultaneously,” City Council members wrote in a motion introduced on June 1.
The council motion demands answers from the General Services Department, the city agency that maintains the Fire Department’s fleet as well as helicopters for the Water and Power and Police departments.
Bonin said he wants to find out what the General Services Department’s “priorities are, how they triage, what gets fixed and in what order. I want to know if they have the ability to use overtime to get some stuff done more quickly – and they’re not using it,” he said, “or whether or not they need more money.” The department didn’t argue for more funding during recent budget discussions, he said.
Bonin and the two other council members supporting the motion, Mitchell Englander and Bob Blumenfield, are calling for the General Services Department to give a report within two weeks detailing the maintenance status of the Fire Department’s helicopter fleet and staff’s ability to meet maintenance needs.
The motion also instructs General Services to report how the Fire Department’s helicopter fleet backlog compares with the maintenance status of helicopters fleets for the Los Angeles Police Department and the Department of Water and Power.
The motion’s authors said that with fire season starting, the Fire Department’s helicopters need to be at full capacity as soon as possible.
The Public Safety Commission will take up the motion.