News that the Los Angeles Fire Department will stop releasing basic information about fires, crashes and other emergencies was slammed today by the chair of the Los Angeles City Council’s Public Safety Committee, who said the move endangers the safety of Angelenos.
In a letter to the Los Angeles Times and later posted to the LAFD’s blog, fire Chief Brian Cummings announced the department would no longer release “protected health information” to the media, elected officials and commissions. City News Service reported that under the new policy, addresses have been omitted from media alerts on fires and other emergencies.
“I realize that this practice will significantly impact the manner in which the department provides updates and notifications to a wide variety of stakeholders,” Cummings wrote in the letter.
The chief cited the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act as the reason for changing LAFD’s disclosure policy. The department is seeking further advice from the City Attorney’s Office.
Councilman Mitch Englander criticized the policy and noted that the department, which has been under fire for repeatedly releasing misleading data on its response times, could not have worse timing.
“From what I’ve heard so far, what they’re suggesting isn’t reasonable,” Englander said. “I think it, quite frankly, is a matter of public safety and is a danger.”
“Location incident information to the media is critically important because if there’s a major incident people want to avoid the area. In the case of evacuations or bomb threats, even major car accidents – whatever that might be, I think it’s critically important to share that information with the public,” Englander said.
A special meeting of the Public Safety Committee will be held on Friday at 2 p.m. at City Hall. The meeting will be devoted to fire department issues.
“I plan on asking the fire chief (about this policy) directly this Friday,” Englander said. ”To come out with the idea that they would withhold information, that makes no sense to me.”
*Update 2:27 p.m.
A spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office tells The City Maven:
“This office has provided and continues to provide advice to the Fire Department on these matters. This office does not control the Fire Department. Our legal advice has, and will continue to remain consistent on these matters, and ultimately, the decision whether to disclose requested information is solely within the control of the LAFD.”
A representative for the Mayor’s Office says:
“The mayor believes in transparency and feels that whatever information can be released to the public should be released, especially as it pertains to emergency incidents.”