Firefighter systems in need of overhaul

In an emergency, time is of the essence. If a car is stolen, for example, any delays in the search reduce the owner’s chance of finding it again.

But something like a stolen car is not a matter of life or death. In this respect, there are few emergencies more urgent than fires. In every second of delay, property that can never be recovered is destroyed.

For this reason, the systems responsible for receiving information about emergencies and sending out help have to operate as reliably and efficiently as possible. For the most part, they work exactly as they should. A series of recent malfunctions in the L.A. area, however, have raised serious concerns over the reliability of the systems in place.

The current systems are flawed to the point of requiring repair.

When the systems function correctly, multiple alerts activate in the fire station nearest the emergency. As a further safeguard, stations are instructed to monitor radio channels in case there is a lost alert.

Over the last few weeks, parts of these systems have failed — with grave consequences. According to a March 17 article in the Los Angeles Times, notification failures led to an incident on March 2, when a fire in South Los Angeles killed two people. The Times further reported that on March 7, paramedics near Torrance took 45 minutes to provide care to a woman whose finger had been dismembered by her workplace’s equipment.

The dispatch equipment has gotten older and has become more prone to crashes and glitches. It is working almost perfectly, but “almost” is not a luxury an operation like firefighting can afford. In the wrong situation, a delay like one of those that occurred could lead to a catastrophic result.

The fact that Mayor Villaraigosa has ordered a review is very promising, but these problems must be fixed as soon as possible. The firefighters of the Los Angeles County do a valiant job every day, but if these small flaws in the system are not fixed, their work might not be enough.


Daniel Grzywacz is a sophomore majoring in neuroscience and anthropology. His column “72 Degrees and Shaking” runs Wednesdays.