Lifeguard reductions, local fire station brownouts a distinct possibility
by DEBBIE HATCH
Published - 10/20/10 - 03:35 PM | 3048 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The city of San Diego projects a $72 million budget deficit for the 2012 fiscal year, beginning in July. City departments were asked to submit proposed budget reductions by close of business Oct. 4.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD), which also encompasses the area’s lifeguards, was asked to cut $7.2 million.

“We will have to — for the first time — consider browning out single-unit fire stations,” said SDFD Chief Javier Mainar.

FIRE OPTIONS

Station 22 on Catalina Boulevard and Station 15 on Voltaire Street are single-engine fire stations that could be considered for brownouts, Mainar said.

Station 21 on Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach, a multi-engine station, is already part of the brownout rotation.

Another possible major cut in the budget would be the elimination of the staffing for one of the two helicopter crews for six months of the year. The department would retain both helicopters, but one pilot would be laid off, Mainar said.

The fire department uses the helicopters for medical aids and transportation, firefighting, cliff rescues, swift river rescues and ocean searching.

LIFEGUARDS

North Pacific Beach could potentially lose all of its more-experienced Lifeguard Level-II coverage. However, it will have a less-experienced Lifeguard Level-I lifeguards on duty during the peak summer season.

The night crew consists of a team of four lifeguards who respond to swift-river rescues, offshore search and rescue work requiring scuba certification, cliff rescues and the more common ocean rescues and medical aids, boats sinking, disabled, on fire — or boaters calling for medical aid for those aboard. The four lifeguards cover the coast from Torrey Pines to the tip of Point Loma and three miles out to sea.

The night crew could potentially be reduced to two lifeguards, who will be stationed at the Mission Bay Headquarters location.

“We now reduce our capability to respond by half,” Mainar said of the nighttime hours guard coverage.

Ocean Beach, South Mission Beach, Mission Beach, La Jolla Rocks and La Jolla Shores could lose a Lifeguard Level-I tower relief, which means fewer breaks for guards.

However, Mainar said fewer breaks does not mean less relaxation, but rather less time to train. Lifeguards typically train when they are on break from tower duty.

TOUGH CHOICES

The next step, Mainar said, is for the cuts to go before the mayor and the full City Council.

"The council is not interested in making [those] cuts," said District 2 Councilman Kevin Faulconer. "I will not support those cuts.

"The choice is not between cuts or taxes,” he said. The choice is between reform or taxes.”

Ed Harris heads the Lifeguard Teamsters Union.

“In my opinion, we’ve already cut Sunset Cliffs,” Harris said.

Sunset Cliffs, the popular surfing site, has already seen fewer lifeguards as a result of the shrinking budget.

“We virtually have eliminated the large surf staffing,” Harris said.

In years past, lifeguards posted a truck and staff along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard during large surf.

The identified budget-cut options are not to include items that generate revenue — but instead, only contain items that can be cut.

“There’s nowhere else to cut,” Harris said.

He suggests many revenue-generating ideas in the forms of selling advertisements on items like rescue boards and lifeguard towers.

“We all live here. We all work here. We don’t want something that’s not tactful,” Harris said.

Last year’s budget reductions impacted how lifeguards train, said Lt. Andy Lerum, spokesman for the city’s Lifeguard Services.

As a result, the training shifted from hands-on scenarios to online learning. The benefits are that information is standardized and tracking of progress can be done more efficiently. Lerum said the negative is the time a guard spends on the computer, which is time taken away from patrol.

Advocates of Prop D on the Nov. 2 ballot — the half-cent sales-tax proposal — have said the measure will shore up the public safety budget and hedge against cuts. Critics have said there is no guarantee the money will be used for those purposes.

Meanwhile, lifeguards remain neutral publicly.

“We have roles and responsibilities as public safety officers to work for the citizens,” Lerum said. “It’s going to be largely up to the people of San Diego to make the decision they will and it’s not for me to comment politically.”
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