"The Cedar Fire was the call to arms," says former chief Jeff Bowman.
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."
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."