The lifeguard union leader claims that recent changes in dispatching procedures initiated by the new fire chief, Brian Fennessy, now route all water-related 911 calls to the fire department instead of directly to lifeguards- who have historically made all water rescues.
This is leading to longer response times and a waste of resources, says Sgt Ed Harris of the lifeguard union.
In a recent Op-Ed piece in the OB Rag, Harris wrote:
“We cannot afford to have the Fire Department divert our trainers, personnel and budget. … Teaching Fire Fighters how to swim and perform river rescue is not acceptable.”
These issues were the focus of a meeting of several hundred lifeguards last Wednesday, March 8th. Most of the 100 lifeguards who work full-time and the 200 more who ares seasonal were reportedly at this meeting in Mission Bay where the discussion turned to consider separating from the San Diego Fire Department.
In recent weeks, lifeguards say they have noticed more and more firefighters taking over duties normally handled by lifeguards.
Lifeguard union representative Sergeant Ed Harris has said Fire Chief Brian Fennessy is trying to push lifeguards out of a job.
And now lifeguards are forming the opinion that seceding from the fire department may be their best option to secure their jobs. Harris said:
“They’re looking at their job, these duties as their livelihood. They’re concerned, very concerned, enough that they want to discuss leaving the fire department for our own department.”
The change adds precious time, Harris has said. “It adds a step that slows down the process getting someone there to help you,” he told the media. He alleged that issues with the new system were demonstrated in two incidents, one of which occurred in Ocean Beach, when lifeguards were called out late to save a woman swept off a cliff, and the other happened at the La Jolla Children’s Pool.
We reported on the January 22nd OB incident:
Tragedy enveloped Sunset Cliffs Saturday night, as one of two women rescued after being swept off rocks and into the foamy rough waters, died in a hospital later that night. The 23-year-old woman, public identified as Adriana Toro, was the first fatality at the cliffs for the new year. …
NBC7 reported that after that incident, a city spokeswoman, Katie Keach, stated that she “is looking into the incident further to find out why lifeguards were not dispatched. Katie Keach said the change was only meant to impact inland water rescues.” Keach told the press:
“This change does not apply to 911 calls pertaining to coastal water rescue emergencies, calls pertaining to Mission Bay rescue emergencies, or calls to water emergencies for any other bodies of water. These calls will continue to be routed as per current protocols by SDPD.”
San Diego Fire Chief Brian Fennessy has responded. He complained in a statement that union leaders have raised the issue of public safety for political reasons.
The Times of San Diego reported:
Fennessy said the lifeguard division was a key component in providing seamless services, and that he understood the “tremendous value” lifeguards bring in their everyday interactions with everyone who works, lives near or visits San Diego’s coastal areas. Responding quickly with the right resources remains a top priority and developing a new department would not provide any demonstrable benefit to the community.
“Creating a separate department for lifeguards would be unprecedented, do nothing to improve public safety and increase costs,” Fennessy said. “We are going to continue to respond as one department and not let politics get in the way of doing the right thing for the public we are sworn to serve.”
Meanwhile, the lifeguard union has filed a grievance about the changes. Harris told one media source that the firefighters have already met with Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office and hope Faulconer will get involved and resolve the issue. If that doesn’t happen, lifeguards pledge to bring their issue to the entire city council, where they can argue for their own department.