San Diego Lifeguards Want to Leave the Fire Department Because of New Dispatching Procedures

by on March 10, 2017 · 5 comments

in Environment, Health, History, Labor, Ocean Beach, Politics, San Diego

San Diego City lifeguards and their union are seriously considering getting out from under the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

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.

Fox5 reported:

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.

News sources:

Times of San Diego



{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

CliffHanger March 11, 2017 at 5:41 pm

It’s not at all clear from this report what the alleged purpose or benefit was to changing the routing of 911 calls.
The Fennessey quote provided only platitudes about the lifeguards (which is often what someone does who’s trying to screw you) and being trumpian by claiming he wants to keep politics out of this issue while he is actively being political about the issue.
What is the basis of the change by those who instituted it, or is it truly a misunderstanding about inland waterways versus all the other?


triggerfinger March 13, 2017 at 9:42 pm

Complain about your job security somewhere else. I don’t care. This should be solely about what best serves the people in need.

The incident mentioned sounds like part of the learning curve, rather than what we should expect for all calls. The lifeguards’ criticisms sound premature and political.


Geoff Page March 14, 2017 at 11:04 am

Well, Triggerfinger, I sure hope you never need help from a lifeguard. Nice demonstration of empathy there. Sure it should be about what serves people’s needs the best and why would you not believe that lifeguards know best when it comes to water emergencies? When was the last time you tried to call police dispatch or even 911?

But, I really have to blast you for that last comment. The incident, in which a young woman lost her life, was a learning curve? I bet her family and friends would find that remark horrifying. Your comment added nothing to the discussion other than to be critical. Maybe you should think before you type.


triggerfinger March 17, 2017 at 11:57 am

They should find everything about it horrifying. That episode was clearly a failure. But making it an emotional argument is counterproductive. As long as saving lives costs money and resources, then there will always be some tradeoff for level of service. Even if an undisputed new and improved method was agreed on, there would inevitably be a learning curve. Even more lives could be saved if we had a lifeguard watching every inch of cliffs and beach…. but that doesn’t happen. Is it because they are soulless individuals with no value of human life?


Oscar April 23, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Too funny. Lifeguards apparently think they’re their own government and get to decide who they work for. Serve them right to have the Fire Dept. take over the whole thing and fire the bunch of losers. They’re a bunch of sexist, racist thugs who only care about protecting their obscene paychecks and on the side perform some rescues all be it hugely inflated.


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