“After 10 years I have passed the torch in preparation for my retirement in 14 months,” said Harris. “Chris Vanos is a talented Lifeguard II who will serve the lifeguards well.”
Last year, the lifeguard's union voted 76 in favor, 18 opposed, to leave the San Diego Fire Rescue Department. A turf battle has ensued over how duties are being apportioned among lifeguards and firefighters, with some lifeguards claiming that rerouting communication calls through fire has slowed emergency response.
Vanos noted there’s subsequently been fallout from the proposed separation of the two departments. “It was seen that if you supported the lifeguard union you were on a ‘black list’ for promotional opportunities,” he said.
Vanos said personnel shortages are among guard’s most pressing needs, which he said includes filling positions for the BSU/Mission Bay harbor patrol, and at Children’s Pool and La Jolla Shores.
“Boating safety positions are needed both for winter and summer due to the impact of tourism and recreational boaters on Mission Bay,” Vanos said. “The Children’s Pool positions are based on the needs for officer safety during rescue calls, enforcement issues both on the rocks and at La Jolla Shores, to better protect the public.”
Concerning health coverage, Vanos said lifeguards are seeking “to have the same coverage as both SD Fire and SDPD do for heart and cancer. We all perform duties that fall under law enforcement and fire suppression, yet lifeguards do not receive coverage for cancer- and heart- related health issues.”
What are the issues in improving the lifeguard department?
“One of the largest issues is that our lifeguard chief answers to both the fire chief and his assistant,” said Vanos. “He/she is not in a role to advocate for lifeguard needs directly to City Council or the mayor. If the LGC was able to advocate for lifeguard needs, we would be able to fix a lot of issues that have come up. We have made the case, both to lifeguard and fire chiefs, for why lifeguards should be dispatching river- and water-rescue calls.
“Though we understand the SDFD has its roles and responsibilities the question is, when you have one of the best swift water rescue teams in the nation, why send a firefighter instead of a water specialist?”
What are the challenges confronting today’s lifeguards?
“The current challenges we have are similar to the issues of SDPD and SDFD,” replied Vanos. “The city is in a wave of retirement. The institutional knowledge is being lost as some of our most senior guards are walking out the door. The front-line lifeguards and firefighter’s who work hand-in-hand on calls have no issues. The issues arise in upper management because the lifeguard chief answers to the fire chief, which creates road blocks.”
Any new developments with equipment/infrastructure?
This summer South Mission Beach will have a new main lifeguard station in the works after having been held up in the courts,” said Vanos. “It is set to open prior to Memorial Day. The lifeguard service is also working on plans for North Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach to receive new main stations. We hope to have these completed very soon to provide the utmost safety for beach goers in those areas.”
Discussing his decade-long tenure as lifeguard union steward, Harris noted: “We successfully got state law changed to cover permanent guards for work-related injury and diseases. We’ve made more progress on working conditions, pay and equipment than was made in the previous 40 years.”
Of retiring, Harris said he’ll be doing “a lot of free diving and gardening. My passions are my family and traveling to all ends of the Earth with no more than a backpack, fins and a mask.”