Fire chief says brown-outs cutting into response times

By James R. Riffel

City News Service

Firefighters are taking longer to arrive at emergencies since staffing cuts were instituted nearly a year ago, fire Chief

Javier Mainar told a City Council committee Wednesday.

Mainar said the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department aims to match the national standard  for responding to house fire — getting a crew of 15 firefighters to a blaze in nine minutes 90 percent of the time — but he told the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee that firefighters were now hitting the mark only 69 percent of the time.

In the Midway district, Mira Mesa and Rancho Penasquitos, response times have recently been running more than 11 minutes, according to Fire-Rescue statistics.

Mainar cautioned that average response times in San Diego are typically lower than the national standard — around eight minutes — but that averages can be misleading because some spots are farther from fire stations than others.

Downtown has the fastest response times, averaging a little more than five minutes, Mainar said. In North Park, response times are average about six minutes.

Staffing cutbacks aimed at saving $11.5 million in the current fiscal year were instituted in February. As many as eight fire engines are taken out of service each day on a rotating basis to reduce costs.

"I think we're making a serious mistake by not putting engines back on the street, and we're putting public safety at risk," Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who heads the committee, said.

The city's chief financial officer, Mary Lewis, said Mayor Jerry Sanders would consider allowing the fire department to return to previous levels at the start of the fiscal year, July 1.

Restoring fire department staffing to previous levels now would cost about $4.8 million, according to the mayor's office.

   
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