Instead of laying off fire and rescue personnel, Mayor Jerry Sanders’s budget cuts — approved by the city council last December — included the implementation of daily rolling “brownouts” at 8 of 13 San Diego fire stations that have more than one fire engine. A brownout is defined as a reduction of a station’s crews by one; under the plan, those 13 stations will no longer house multiple crews permanently.
The plan will be implemented on February 6 and is expected to result in $11.5 million in savings from a reduction in overtime pay. According to the City, firefighters who are displaced by the brownouts will be used to replace firefighters who are away on vacation, sick leave, injury, training, or other department needs.
In a memorandum dated January 19, District 1 councilmember Sherri Lightner asked city chief operating officer Jay Goldstone to consider statistics on two fire stations in her district that serve a large geographical area and also contend with a high volume of incidents.
Station 40 in Rancho Peñasquitos (part of Lightner’s district) had the longest response time out of all double-crew firehouses: an average of 6 minutes and 23 seconds. Station 35 in University City had the second-worst response time out of all double houses: an average of 6 minutes and 5 seconds.
“Available data makes it reasonable to expect that Station 35 and 40 should be two of the five double houses exempted from brownouts,” said Lightner in the memo. “We cannot jeopardize public safety or economic stability by putting at risk the residents of University City and Rancho Peñasquitos, the students, faculty and staff at UCSD, or San Diego’s high-tech businesses on the Torrey Pines Mesa and in the Golden Triangle.”
On January 26, the City released the official brownout plan, which included both stations 35 and 40. Other stations included in the brownouts are stations 1, 4, 10, 11, 12, 14, 20, 21, 28, 29, and 44.
The brownouts represent a reduction of as much as 13 percent in the City’s firefighting force. In a press release, councilmember Marti Emerald said, “We are patching the budget deficit by cutting public safety services. We should all be concerned about this.”