Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

Crash Spotlights Funding Need

It Could take months or even longer to determine the exact cause of Monday's fatal crash of a Los Angeles Fire Department air rescue helicopter, but there is much to think about in the meantime. What's needed is a review by the mayor, the City Council, the Fire Commission and the Fire Department with as little finger pointing as possible.

It goes without saying that firefighting and air rescue operations are very dangerous. On average, more than seven firefighters are killed every year in California. But the L.A. Fire Department had enjoyed a remarkable run until veteran Fire Capt. Joseph C. Dupee died in a South-Central industrial building fire on March 9. That was the city's first on-duty firefighter accident death in 13 years. Monday's helicopter crash, in which three department members and an auto accident victim perished, was the first air rescue fatality case in 24 years, according to some reports.

Fire Department request for new helicopters have been rejected since 1990. Maybe that long safety record made it easy for the City Council to assume they were not needed. During part of that period, strained relations between the council and headstrong department leaders over discrimination controversies may have diminished the department's ability to be its own best advocate.

There have always been options to Fire Department use of helicopters. Many municipal fire departments do not have air rescue operations. Dallas, Forth Worth, Phoenix and other cities use private firms with direct arrangements with local hospitals.

Maintenance and a helicopter's total flight hours are often far more important than a craft's age, but it's noteworthy that the private operations in those cities do have much newer helicopters than those of the L.A. Fire Department.

If Los Angeles is going to stay in the air rescue business, helicopters ought to receive more consideration in the city's public safety expenditures. There is no need to wait for a cause of the crash to understand that.

   Los Angeles Times
   Wednesday March 25, 1998

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