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Chief to shift special rigs to PB, University City in effort to ease ‘brown out’ impact

A couple of specialty fire rigs will be shifted to stations in Pacific Beach and University City to try to ease the effects of rolling “brownouts” that take some fire engines out of service every day, San Diego’s fire chief told a City Council committee Wednesday.

However, there is no way to reduce the time it takes firefighters to respond to emergencies without putting the engines back in service, Fire-Rescue Department Chief Javier Mainar told the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee.

Residents of communities where engines are grounded on a rotating basis, termed “brownouts,” have expressed concerns that fire suppression capabilities are being compromised due to the cost-saving move, Mainar said.

“Absent the return of brownout units, there is very little we can do to improve our response times,” Mainar said.

The chief said he will shift a combination water pumper-ladder truck, nicknamed a “quint” for its fivefold uses, from Santaluz to Pacific Beach. He will then place an engine in Santaluz, where it could also serve surrounding areas. He will move another quint from Mira Mesa, to University City, which has a greater risk of a large fire in any of numerous high-rises.

The number of fire engines at 13 of San Diego’s 47 fire stations were reduced on a rotation basis, starting in February, to save the city an estimated $11.5 million a year.

Ten of the stations have brownouts every other month, while stations in Rancho Penasquitos, the College district and Mira Mesa experience monthly brownouts, Mainar said.

He told the committee he plans to keep those three communities on the monthly rotation schedule because they have the lowest volume of incidents to respond to, on average.