By James R. Riffel
City News Service
San Diego's fire chief on Wednesday endorsed Mayor Jerry Sanders' plan for ending staffing cuts that put fire engines out of service on a rotating basis to save money, and the Rancho Penasquitos station would be the first to benefit.
Staffing at fire stations has been reduced via "brownouts," in which eight engines companies are out of service daily. The tactic, rotating among 13 stations, was begun by the mayor to save $11.5 million.
He proposed restoring four engines when the new fiscal year begins July 1, and the rest on Jan. 1, 2012.
During a City Council review of the proposed Fire-Rescue Department budget, fire Chief Javier Mainar said he would phase-in firefighters until full staffing was restored.
Engine 40 in Rancho Penasquitos will return to full-time service on July 1, he said. The station was selected as the first to be restored, because of the "poor response times we have there."
Engine 10, in the College Area, and Engine 44, in Mira Mesa, will be out of service less often, he said. Other staffing reductions will continue until Jan. 1.
The fire station in Rancho Penasquitos — a hilly, spread-out bedroom community — has some of the longest average response times in the city, more than 6 minutes. The average response time for the first fire vehicle to reach an emergency scene climbed 30 seconds after brownouts were implemented, according to the SDFRD.
"I would expect the response times to go back to where they were before the brownouts," Mainar said.
The plan by the mayor and fire chief needs approval by the City Council, but that is expected to be a formality. Council members have said ending the brownouts was their top budget priority.