Office of Emergency Services truck was unloaded so SD firefighters could take the equipment to Houston.
  • Office of Emergency Services truck was unloaded so SD firefighters could take the equipment to Houston.
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They're well-practiced at water rescues — 9000 last year — and at handling boats. They practice swift-water rescues and perform them, most often in Mission Valley and the Tijuana River Valley. They've deployed to floods and worked the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But they are sitting in San Diego, despite asking to be sent to Houston for more than four days — and then being denied time off so they could go where their skills are badly needed now.

So, the San Diego Lifeguards sent a letter of apology to the people of Houston and Texas governor Gregg Abbott: "As professional lifeguards, we are saddened that there are moms, grandmas and children that we could rescue if we were only allowed to go help," the letter says. "It is with heavy hearts that we send this apology. We can only hope that if our families were in need, someone would come."

The Federal Emergency Management Administration continues to call for help, asking Houston and nearby boat owners to put their boats in service for rescues. But the lifeguards are sidelined while fire chief Brian Fennessy sent 45 firefighters to help.

Ed Harris

"They ordered us to give our boats to the fire department, and we did," says lifeguard Sgt. Ed Harris. "We have a Cal [Office of Emergency Services] trailer full of floats and boats. Our guys loaded it and waited for the call, Thursday, Friday, Saturday... They called us and told us to unload the trailer and bring them to the fire department." As they waited, the lifeguards made their own plans, Harris said.

"We asked for time off. We can be there by tomorrow morning if we drive all night," he said. But they were told they couldn't have time off — if they went, it would be considered "job abandonment," grounds for firing them.

"Instead, my guys are sitting around while people die, feeling just sick to their stomachs," Harris said. Harris posted the letter to Facebook Monday night (August 28) and immediately got a response from Stephen Puetz, who left his position as mayor Kevin Faulconer's chief of staff in mid-July.

Stephen Puetz

from Twitter

"Ed Harris is a disgusting hack for politicizing this. He knows damn well that the city of San Diego sent 35 personnel and 10 drivers to Houston," Puetz wrote. "This is a long-standing lifeguard union dispute with the city and the city's fire department — and Ed Harris is the union's rep. Absolutely shameful that he'd politicize this."

Harris, a former Marine, also ran for mayor against Faulconer in 2016 and scored 19 percent of the vote. He'd already served as city councilman in the District 2 seat Faulconer vacated to replace Bob Filner as mayor. Harris heads the lifeguard union, which has been at odds with the city, most recently over the decision to route lifeguard 911 calls to the fire department.

Fire chief Brian Fennessy

"A child died because of a four-minute delay with the fire department," Harris said. "That's the point. They sent our calls to the fire department and the delay cost a family their child." In March, fire chief Fennessy held a press conference where he blasted Harris and shamed the lifeguards for their anger over changes in the 911 dispatch policy.

But Harris is adamant that this is about people with the will, the skill, the gear, the experience, and the commitment to rescue people in water disasters, like the one unfolding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

"We're sidelined at a time that Houston and FEMA are asking for help from any able citizen," Harris said

UPDATE

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Comments

boemac Aug. 29, 2017 @ 7:08 a.m.

If it such a big deal to Harris he should quit his job and go. All he does here Is bitch because he doesn't get his way. Another liberal loser that we don't need.

2

SaintJerry Aug. 30, 2017 @ 9:13 a.m.

"Liberal loser" If it were not for liberal thinking, lifeguards as well as other extensive first responder hiring and training would not even exist. Conservatives would be saying that "costs too much." "That" being saving lives and caring for people. Yeah, I'll take those liberal losers any day while you can keep your lying, apathetic conservatives who squeak every time there's a thought of spending tax payers dollars on saving tax payers lives.

1

AlexClarke Aug. 29, 2017 @ 7:20 a.m.

It would seem that Stephen Puetz is the hack here. What has he done to help the people of Houston? While it is true that Ed Harris is the union rep he is first and foremost a lifeguard and actually rescues people and saves lives. Puetz is just a political hack that does nothing for anyone but himself. The lifeguards were were ready and willing to go on their own time but it is the SDFD that stands in the way. When it comes to water the lifeguards are the professionals.

2

Cassander Aug. 29, 2017 @ 9:19 a.m.

So Harris is the one politicizing that Kev-boy had fire chief Brian Hennessy send firefighters to a flood, but no lifeguards? And Puetz isn't violating the 12-month cooling-off rule on trying to peddle influence by still spox-ing Kev-boy?

And the local Republicans say they have nothing in common with Trump, except risking lives in political games and not following ethics laws?

2

alohanalu Aug. 29, 2017 @ 10:20 a.m.

Houston underwater-lifeguards make rescues in water HMMMMMM Sounds like a no brainer.

Somethings wrong in the fire department handling of their assets.

Send in the lifeguards!!!!!

1

nostalgic Aug. 29, 2017 @ 12:25 p.m.

There's something about our new political world that makes people snarky, and to many of us, Ed Haris is NOT a "liberal loser" lifeguard, he is a hero; in our current twitter world, he saves people's lives.

2

martygraham619 Aug. 29, 2017 @ 6:27 p.m.

UPDATE: 11 members of the Lifeguards River Rescue Team are on their way to Houston.

Harris took some verbal punches today from the San Diego Fire and Rescue Chief, Mayor Kevin Faulconer (who said: "We will not allow anyone trying to score cheap political points to take our focus away from what matters most – helping the victims of Hurricane Harvey.” It wasn't immediately clear how not sending the lifeguards helped the victims.) and Carl DeMaio on his radio show. Then the order came and 11 lifeguards are on their way to Houston.

"My goal was to get our guys to Houston so we could help save lives," Harris said. "I'll take those punches."

3

Visduh Aug. 29, 2017 @ 7:59 p.m.

My take on this is just another foul-up, SD city hall style, that didn't think this relief effort through at all. A balanced group of firefighters, who double as EMT's and rescue experts, with a good slug of lifeguards, should have been sent. Limiting it to the fire dept was just plain stupid. But Kev-boy and his minions "do" stupid all the time. Interesting, isn't it, that some attention directed to the matter resulted in a reversal. Is that how this mayor handles everything? It starts to look that way. Point out his failings and missteps, and he's ready to reverse course. But instead of admitting a mistake, he has to get nasty and accuse his former opponent of scoring cheap political points. Hey Kev, who's scoring points here?

1

JustWondering Aug. 30, 2017 @ 12:30 p.m.

Godspeed to all of those who voluntarily go to the rescue of Hurricane Harvey victims.

3

boemac Aug. 30, 2017 @ 1:56 p.m.

Remember StaintJerry all that liberal thinking has got this state and many others totally broke. Getting overtime for the unions should never be the reason to send people out of state.

1

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