Fire chief: Lifeguard services struggling with budget cuts

By City News Service

The impacts of rotating “brownouts” imposed on city fire stations to save money have not changed significantly in recent months, but the lifeguard service is struggling with budget cuts, the chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said Wednesday.

In a report to the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Neighborhood Services, Chief Javier Mainar said firefighter response times have increased slightly citywide, but more so at the stations affected by brownouts.

The brownout policy was implemented on Feb. 6.

Since then, the average response time for Station 21 in Pacific Beach has increased 10 percent, from 4:41 to 5:10. The average time between a call and arrival at a scene for Station 40 in Rancho Penasquitos has climbed 5.7 percent, from 6:15 to 6:36.

Stations near San Diego State University, downtown, the East Village, Golden Hill, Kearny Mesa, Lincoln Park, Midway, Mira Mesa, North Park, San Ysidro and University City are also in the brownout rotation.

The SDFRD expects to save $11.5 million in the current fiscal year, and is on track to meet that figure, Mainar said.

The mayor’s office has asked the SDFRD to trim an additional $7.2 million for the next fiscal year.

“This situation is not getting any better,” Councilman Todd Gloria said.

Mainar said reductions in the number of lifeguards has forced employees to work overtime, skip vacations and limit training.

There has also been reduced coverage of Black’s Beach and Wind n’ Sea Beach, but there have been no drownings at either location this year, the chief said. The lifeguard service is part of the SDFRD.

Ed Harris, the head of the lifeguards union, requested that the Independent Budget Analysts Office study whether it is less expensive to hire new employees or pay overtime for current workers.

“This week, eight or nine employees will be on overtime daily because of vacancies,” Harris said.

The SDFRD cut eight full-time lifeguard positions as part of the budget-cutting process.

Mainar has been updating the committee almost monthly on the impact of the brownouts and other budget reductions.