Letter: Lesson Learned?

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Letter to the Editor

If you didn’t attend the packed meeting at City Hall with the LACoFD Chief Daryl Osby and his management team Saturday, you missed another angry group of Malibu homeowners failing to get answers. Why can’t those in power just say they screwed up? Instead, Chief Osby’s euphemism of “LESSONS LEARNED” obfuscated the bits of candor.

Osby gets credit for showing up in a hostile environment, also for promising to assess each non-conforming property in terms of fire flow (water pressure) and driveway width, posting a fire department rep at City Hall, and creating more call fire brigades. But he couldn’t answer what folks most wanted to know: Where were the firefights and why strike teams here wouldn’t engage.

First, City Manager Reva Feldman was soundly booed by the crowd. Angrily, she responded that she didn’t start the fire. True, but people are furious she closed City Hall and was in Santa Monica instead of battling Cal Fire and the chiefs in their bumbled evacuation and repopulation. Clearly, she and several council members bought the official line that those who stayed were a hindrance to the firemen who weren’t there. Had Reva been arrested for fighting with the incident commander, she’d now be a hero.

The key takeaway, however, came from a synthesis of an angry retired fireman and comments by an assistant chief. The fireman said in 1995, he didn’t need orders to fight fires. As the chief outlined the command structure, my jaw dropped. There is a shocking number of chiefs, captains, and commanders—six levels—before reaching the firemen on the street. It’s a top heavy ship becalmed by bureaucratic bumbling, punctuated by instances of bravery and dedication.

Chief Osby repeatedly said he asked for more resources and mutual aid but none was forthcoming. He didn’t say nearly 40 percent of LACoFD equipment was sent to the Camp Fire. Initially told that 200 people had died in Paradise is a scary thought, but I suspect the 88 actual deaths had already occurred by the time our equipment arrived. With fierce winds predicted here, in retrospect the chief’s decision may be what sealed Malibu’s fate.

These men feel they did a good job under the circumstances, but why they weren’t prepared for this repeat of the 1956 fire can’t be blamed on drought or other fires. Why didn’t they know the alternate routes from the valley to Malibu that weren’t burning? It seems they bought the usual media hype of more Santa Anas, which always follows a significant disaster.

But the final indignity was SCE preventing repopulation for nearly two weeks in some neighborhoods so they didn’t have to control traffic. It is decisions like this by unelected bureaucrats that more and more seem to rule our lives and gradually take away our freedom.

Scott Dittrich