A Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter. Courtesy LAFD

A Los Angeles City Council committee came up short Tuesday when seeking answers on how to prevent the fire department’s helicopter fleet, which recently had to fight two simultaneous brush fires with half of its airships grounded, from operating at a diminished capacity.

The Public Safety Committee heard from representatives of the Los Angeles Fire Department and the General Services Division, but Councilman Mike Bonin, who co-introduced the motion asking for a report on the state of the helicopter fleet, did not like the answers he was getting.

“I really appreciate that everybody is trying to be polite and collaborative. I’m not in the polite and collaborative mood on this issue,” Bonin said. “When we are down that low, that freaks me out. This is for me — and I know you all know this because it is for you, as well — but it’s a matter of life and death.”

Bonin also expressed frustration that the GSD presented a verbal report at the meeting and not a written report. As a result, the committee moved to keep the motion in the committee and discuss the issue again when a written report is ready.

The department has six helicopters in its fleet, but only three were available on May 28 when brush fires broke out in Mandeville Canyon and Sylmar, according to Bonin’s motion. No property was damaged as a result of the blazes, but Bonin said he was “disturbed” by the LAFD’s depleted fleet that day.

“Due to 50 percent of the LAFD helicopter fleet out of service, the fire department was precluded from supporting both incidents simultaneously,” his motion reads. “In addition, while firefighters valiantly controlled both fires without the loss of any homes, the reduction in the number of helicopters not only extended the turnaround time for refilling helicopter water tanks and dropping water, but also limited the LAFD’s ability to fulfill precision drop requests from firefighters on the ground during the initial stages of the Mandeville fire.”

Members of the LAFD and GSD told the committee the general goal is for the fleet to always be operating at least at 75 percent, but backlogs in maintenance and situations outside of anyone’s control sometimes result in the fleet going down to 50 percent.

The fleet has only been at 50 percent capacity 9 percent of the time this year, according to the verbal report.

“I remain concerned at the pace at which we are repairing the LAFD equipment,” Bonin said.

–City News Service

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