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.