City votes to maintain current minimum fire station staffing policy

By Joe Britton

City News Service

The City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve a policy to maintain the current practice of requiring a minimum staffing level of four firefighters on fire engines and trucks in San Diego.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who heads the City Council’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, said today’s vote was intended to “memorialize” state and federal firefighter staffing standards.

“We need to set, I believe, some standards going forward in these tough budget times,” Emerald said.

“We want to send a message ... that one standard we don’t want to abandon is the basic minimum four-member crew standard for firefighters,” she said.

While there has not been a specific proposal to change the current required firefighter staffing levels, some officials have questioned whether moving to three-person crews would save money.

Councilman Carl DeMaio, who said he doesn’t support a change now, said that “unfortunately, given the fact we have budget constraints, I want us to really be very thoughtful in exploring all options.”

Fire officials told the City Council that having four-member fire fighting crews is critical to maintaining emergency response times and coordinating once on the scene.

“We are united in our position that four-person staffing is what is appropriate in our city,” San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Javier Mainar testified.

Ultimately, the decision on firefighting staffing levels is up to the mayor.

Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, said Mayor Jerry Sanders is committed to the four-person firefighter standard.

A study on the issue, initiated by the mayor’s office, is due sometime next month.

“We are going to have a report in six weeks that might put data on the table that will change our opinion,” DeMaio said. “I doubt it will. But, absent any data to the contrary, I continue to support four-person crews.”

DeMaio said, however, he believes the city needs to look at the cost of how firefighting staff are deployed.

The SDFRD responds to more than 100,000 calls a year, most of them are for medical emergencies.