Another life-saving incident occurred recently that San Diego lifeguards say shows that a new dispatch system installed by San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Brian Fennessy is causing problems. The new system is confusing dispatchers and adding to response times for first-responders.
The new system has water-rescue calls routed to the firefighters and not to lifeguards, as had previously been the system.
Sgt. Ed Harris, head of the lifeguard union, said that over last weekend a small child had to be rescued from the Model Yacht Pond in Mission Bay Park.
Firefighters were initially dispatched to the scene when the first 911 call came in. A minute later, a second 911 call was made and this one was routed to lifeguards. According to Harris, the lifeguards were at the scene within 2 minutes, before firefighters arrived. He told NBC:
“Lifeguards do what they do. They got in the boat, they were there within minutes and they were still the first on the scene. They were able to start CPR.”
Harris spoke at a news conference Tuesday, March 14th, and called upon Chief Brian Fennessy to respond to the union’s concerns. This was the 2nd time in as many weeks that the union has called the Chief out on this issue. They also want Mayor Kevin Faulconer to address the dispatch issue. Harris said:
“Once we get a response from the mayor, if the mayor upholds our grievance and reverses things and he does not support our position then it will move to city council sometime in April or May.”
NBC quoted Chief Fennessy’s response, made in a statement:
“Our change in dispatch protocol for inland water rescues has resulted in improved service to the community members we serve. It’s unfortunate that the Teamsters Local 911 president is misleading the public by making uninformed and false statements about this change.”
Fennessy is expected to hold a news conference on Wednesday.
And Faulconer’s office also made a statement later Tuesday.
“The changes Chief Fennessy has made have ensured that 911 water-rescue calls are answered faster and have resulted in better response times. It’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise.”
NBC reported that “The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department includes more than 1300 firefighters, lifeguards, paramedics and civilian personnel with a budget just over $237,000,000, according to the city’s website.” 7San Diego
Lifeguards had previously called out delay issues with the new system and claim they were demonstrated in two other incidents, one of which occurred in Ocean Beach, when lifeguards were called out late to save a woman swept off a cliff, who later died. The other happened at the La Jolla Children’s Pool.
The lifeguard union is seriously considering seceding from the Fire Department due to problems with the new dispatch system.
Here is a report from Channel 10News about the fire department press conference today – Wed.
Fire officials countered that forwarding inland water rescue calls to the fire department dispatch center was necessary because the lifeguards’ system, which only allows for two calls to be answered at a time, is quickly overwhelmed. That leads to some 911 calls going unanswered during high-volume periods, such as in severe storm conditions.
Fennessy said emergency response times have actually improved since the dispatch change. The minor change has resulted in no calls going unanswered during extreme storm conditions this year, and provides firefighters and lifeguards with another chance to collaborate.
“Lifeguards and firefighters are dispatched to inland water rescues simultaneously and within seconds of 911 calls — far faster than lifeguard dispatch is able to accomplish,” Fennessy said at a mid-morning briefing at the department’s Metro Zone Emergency Command & Data Center. “The decision to have inland water rescue calls forwarded from San Diego police to this center has resulted in significant public safety improvements.”
Fennessy said called Harris’ allegation that the change has been causing serious confusion “patently false.”
“There’s been no confusion on the part of the police and the fire-rescue department dispatchers and there have been no delays as a result of this change,” Fennessy said. He added that Sunday’s rescue call involving a child in Mission Bay was not delayed.