In May, the San Diego City Council scraped together the final dollars needed to build a fire station in Mission Valley. The long-awaited approval gave Fire Chief Javier Mainar a sense of relief. He said he had been waiting for a station in the valley since he first became a firefighter, 30 years ago. For the past decade, fire crews have worked out of a trailer in the far reaches of the Qualcomm parking lot.
But Mainar’s relief was fleeting. The chief needs 20 additional fire stations throughout the city if he hopes to bring response times down to acceptable levels: less than seven minutes and 30 seconds, 90 percent of the time. His crews barely reach this national standard half the time, especially in mid-city neighborhoods with their high number of calls. He knows he can only stretch his limited resources so far, before the system breaks.
Mainar isn’t the first fire chief to fret over a lack of resources. When the council refused to invest more resources after the devastating 2003 wildfires, Chief Jeff Bowman resigned in frustration. Since then, we have lost many of our most experienced firefighters for the same reason: the city’s lack of commitment to public safety, especially to the men and women in the service who risk their lives protecting us every day.
I chair the City Council’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, as I have since I joined the council in 2008. It’s been the prime mission of my committee and I to rebuild our public safety agencies after years of neglect. We struggled through the recession like everyone else, and by 2011 got some traction from a slowly improving economy. It’s time to hit the ground running.
In 2011, the city commissioned the Citygate report, a detailed and authoritative look at the needs of our Fire-Rescue Department. The public safety committee used the Citygate findings to craft a five-year plan to rebuild Fire-Rescue. The cornerstone of our plan is building the 20 fire stations this city so desperately needs; a $100-million-dollar effort beginning with the Home Avenue, Skyline and College Area stations, which are located in the busiest, highest-density neighborhoods in San Diego.
The council is committed to this plan. Using a combination of general fund and bond dollars, we plan to invest in the design and construction of fire stations each year going forward. We have begun this year with the final funding approval of the Mission Valley Fire Station 45. The city has also rebuilt the department’s in-station alerting system, rolled out more fire engines and other vehicles, is paying for academies to hire new firefighters and has instituted a new system to cut response times on emergency calls.
Public safety is everybody’s concern. We all have a stake in this plan to rebuild the Fire-Rescue Department. And we all share the obligation to hold the city accountable, each and every elected official, including the next mayor. There are no excuses.