"The Cedar Fire was the call to arms," says former chief Jeff Bowman.
  • "The Cedar Fire was the call to arms," says former chief Jeff Bowman.
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Former San Diego Fire and Rescue chief Jeff Bowman, who quit in part over the city's lack of commitment to the department, recently sent a letter to the city supporting the bond measure for new firehouses.

"I was hired to go to San Diego to try to fix some of the fire-department shortages," Bowman said in a phone interview Monday (July 18). "That the city leaders didn't support the minimum steps to bring the fire department up to accreditation standards was one of the main reasons I left."

Jeff Bowman

Jeff Bowman

Bowman said the most troubling of the city's failures was the failure to add firehouses in a city that is short two dozen new stations by professional firefighter criteria.

"One station was added during my tenure — and that was after a fuel tanker overturned, burned, and blew up near Qualcomm Stadium and it took 13 minutes to get someone there," he said. "The closest station was in Normal Heights near Adams Avenue."

Bowman wrote the letter to support the proposed ballot measure for a $205 million bond to build 18 firehouses.

The measure has the support of every one of the dozen neighborhood planning groups that heard it, according to councilwoman Marti Emerald's spokesperson, Marisa Berumen.

"We are always in fire season, and the region is always ready to burn," Emerald said. "Public safety is simply the number-one priority for government."

The ballot measure goes before the city council today (July 19) for approval to be on the November ballot, and Emerald's office is expecting a fight along party lines, according to a letter circulated last week.

"The Mayor and the four Republicans on the City Council want to deny San Diego voters an opportunity to decide this important public safety issue. They look forward to killing the measure this coming Tuesday, July 19, at 2 p.m.," Emerald's letter states. "The Council will be voting on a Resolution of Necessity, required by the Ca. Government Code before we can place a bond measure before voters. This resolution requires six votes...all five Democrats support it. We just need one Republican to keep our Firehouse Bond alive. These politicians will do anything to deny San Diego voters an opportunity to weigh in on this vital public safety bond."

Independent auditor's report

Bowman's letter supports the bond, which he said is ten years overdue. Bowman resigned in 2006, in part over pension issues, but also with increasing frustration over the lack of funds for hiring and resources for the agency. He was chief during the 2003 wildfires that devastated San Diego County, killed 15 people (including a firefighter), and burned 2800 buildings on 280,000 acres of land. The fire set a record for devastation and for Bowman illustrated the need for up-to-date, staffed, and equipped fire departments.

"The Cedar Fire was the call to arms," he said. "San Diego has to be prepared for major fire disasters — the 2007 fires proved that." But the financially strapped city didn't do much of anything. "The city and county don't do a good job of managing fires. They're verbally reactive, then they do nothing," Bowman said.

Under Bowman, the city commissioned a report called the Citygate report, after the Folsom-based consulting firm that specializes in fire-department assessments.

"Just to meet day-to-day call criteria, 23 stations were needed," Bowman said. "They built one. Look at Rancho Bernardo, which is 30 square miles and has one fire station, where the National Fire Protection study calls for a station for every 5 square miles."

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Comments

shirleyberan July 19, 2016 @ 7:21 p.m.

Anybody with half a brain knows the county is neglected and in fire danger.

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AlexClarke July 20, 2016 @ 6:13 a.m.

San Diego County, unlike Los Angeles County and Orange County, do not have a fire department. They rely on the CDF to provide fire protection in the rural areas. Fire protection has always been a low priority for the County Supervisors.

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Visduh July 21, 2016 @ 1:42 p.m.

It seems that development never pays its own way. If all the fees collected from the developers during the build out of Rancho Bernardo had covered the cost of adding all the services and infrastructure that were needed, RB would have more than a single fire station. One of the many excuses for the devastation of the 2007 Witch Fire, which burned parts of Rancho Bernardo, was that the SDF&RD had only four engines in RB. Well, couldn't they send more from other parts of the city? Supposedly that was done, yet many homes were lost to that fire in the city.

Every time there is a need, the pols come up with a bond issue (and the property taxes that go with it) or just ask for another half-percent of sales tax. Aren't our regular taxes supposed to cover such things? Yes, they are. But no, they don't.

Another point that goes unmentioned is that more stations means more fire fighting staff. Those guys, and a few gals, are most costly, with high pay and even better benefits. Build more stations, and the next thing we will hear is that they are short-staffed, and that a new tax is needed to pay for more fire fighters. And so it goes, and goes, and goes.

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