The city’s top three mayoral candidates can agree on one thing: The city must improve its emergency response times, and that the effort will involve building new fire stations.

But as the candidates address those new fire stations, a couple different numbers have emerged.

Councilman David Alvarez offered his assessment in his mayoral blueprint released last week.

“The only way to solve (the city’s emergency response) problem is to invest in critically needed equipment and personnel, including 19 new fire stations across San Diego,” Alvarez wrote.

Fellow Councilman Kevin Faulconer cited a much smaller number in the neighborhood plan he released earlier this week.

“The Citygate report, a comprehensive study of San Diego’s Fire-Rescue needs, helped the city create a plan to improve emergency response times in these communities and recommends adding five new stations to improve response times,” Faulconer wrote.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Alvarez and Faulconer’s numbers differ but they both come from the same report.

In 2011, consultant Citygate Associates evaluated the Fire-Rescue Department and its ability to respond to calls for help.

The Folsom, Calif.-based firm found that the city would need to build as many as 19 new fire stations to meet its goal to arrive at the scene of most emergencies within seven minutes and 30 seconds.

The consultant included this list in its 2011 report.

Citygate-recommended fire stations

The top five neighborhoods most at risk of long waits for emergency aid are within 9 1/2 miles south and east of downtown San Diego.

They are: the area around Home Avenue in City Heights, Paradise Hills, College area, Skyline and Encanto.

Faulconer focused on those areas in his neighborhood plan.

The Citygate report said most of those spots require new fire stations.

Alvarez’s neighborhood blueprint incorporated those same five areas of need in his recommendation for 19 new stations.

But the Citygate report didn’t just advocate for 19 new fire stations – it offered a potential alternative for nine of the 19 areas it said merited improved service.

Citygate recommended that the city immediately design a pilot program to create fast-response squads  that could more quickly address demands in some of the city’s neighborhoods. The two-member crews would include a fire captain and a paramedic, and they would work during periods when firefighters tend to receive the most calls for help. Citygate reviewers said Encanto – one of the five neighborhoods most at risk for a late response— was eligible for this option.

The two-person teams cost much less than building a fire station, and take much less time to assemble. Earlier this year, Fire Chief Javier Mainar estimated each squad would cost $769,000; the city has found it would need to spend $12 million, which includes a year of staffing, for each new fire station.

But the city hasn’t made progress on the fire stations or the response squads more than two years since Citygate issued its report.

Mainar and the president of the city’s fire union have both said they’d prefer to see the city focus on fire stations first.

“My intent is to keep the focus on the greatest benefit for the greatest number,” Mainar told Voice of San Diego last month.

Fire union president Frank De Clercq said he’d like the city to build at least four new fire stations before it adds the two-person crew in Encanto, which is No. 5 on the city’s priority list for new stations. Adding those facilities could take years.

In his plan, Faulconer acknowledged the challenges associated with funding the stations and suggested a two-person squad or another approach might improve responses in Skyline more quickly.

“To make immediate progress on improving emergency response times, the city must explore innovative solutions to better leverage resources to make immediate progress in reducing emergency response times, such as constructing a temporary fire station in the Skyline community,” Faulconer wrote.

Alvarez seems to want the fire stations first.

Alvarez said in a Tuesday statement that he thinks the 19 new fire stations are the top priority to provide a network of coverage, though two-person squads may be necessary due to the city’s unique terrain.

“We can add the response teams sooner, but they aren’t a replacement for the fire stations,” he said.

But Alvarez wouldn’t directly address whether he’d push for the fast-response squads while residents wait for stations that could take years, or even decades to materialize.

“I will implement the Citygate report’s recommendations, including building more fire stations and pursuing two-man fast response squads,” Alvarez said. “I want to move as quickly as possible, and so will try to implement as many of the Citygate recommendations as possible by the end of my first term.”

    This article relates to: Community, David Alvarez, Emergency Response Times, Kevin Faulconer, Mayoral Candidates 2014, Mayoral Election Issues 2014, Neighborhoods, Politics, Public Safety, Special Mayoral Election 2014

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

    14 comments
    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin

    Hi Lisa. The Fast response team (FRS) will operate from 8am to 8 pm with a two man team consisting of a (captain)supervisor and a firefighter/paramedic with the pilot program costing 769K for the year. The breakdown of costs says NPE $242K and PE of $527K . What does the NPE and PE designate? The captain and the firefighter I'm assuming

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin

    Thanks for clarifying Liam. 527K cost for a two person team seems excessive IMHO.

    Liam Dillon
    Liam Dillon

    NPE = Non-personnel expense (SUV). PE = Personnel expense (Captain/firefighter).

    Omar Passons
    Omar Passons

    Liam/Lisa - Mark's opinion brings up a good point. Are you able to share any information about why the PE cost is $527K? I can't tell if it is excessive or not, but I bet with a bit more information we coudl get closer.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Hi Lisa. The Fast response team (FRS) will operate from 8am to 8 pm with a two man team consisting of a (captain)supervisor and a firefighter/paramedic with the pilot program costing 769K for the year. The breakdown of costs says NPE $242K and PE of $527K . What does the NPE and PE designate? The captain and the firefighter I'm assuming

    Liam Dillon
    Liam Dillon memberadministrator

    NPE = Non-personnel expense (SUV). PE = Personnel expense (Captain/firefighter).

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Thanks for clarifying Liam. 527K cost for a two person team seems excessive IMHO.

    Omar Passons
    Omar Passons subscribermember

    Liam/Lisa - Mark's opinion brings up a good point. Are you able to share any information about why the PE cost is $527K? I can't tell if it is excessive or not, but I bet with a bit more information we coudl get closer.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann

    Who will pay for them, the people in those neighborhoods who will benefit from them and see their insurance rates go down and property values go up, or people in other neighborhoods who have already paid for their own fire stations?

    Omar Passons
    Omar Passons

    This kind of question turns the notion of shared resources on its ear. I suppose I'm not so much responding to you, since I know your view, but others who might read your comment and have the same question. The reality is that some of my taxes in North Park pay for fire stations in Rancho Bernardo. We live in a city, that's how cities work. And the trade-off is that some of my friends in Rancho Bernardo pay taxes that help cover bicycle police in my urban community on the weekend. I don't directly benefit from the RB fire station any more than they benefit from my enhanced police service. The option for those who want to live in a community in which everyone bears the cost of their own externalities alone is to move off the grid so that you are a community of one.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann

    Omar, why can't or why shouldn't tax revenue raised in a neighborhood stay in the neighborhood? Aren't residents more qualified to decide what investments to make in their own neighborhood than city planners?

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    Who will pay for them, the people in those neighborhoods who will benefit from them and see their insurance rates go down and property values go up, or people in other neighborhoods who have already paid for their own fire stations?

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    Omar, why can't or why shouldn't tax revenue raised in a neighborhood stay in the neighborhood? Aren't residents more qualified to decide what investments to make in their own neighborhood than city planners?

    Omar Passons
    Omar Passons subscribermember

    This kind of question turns the notion of shared resources on its ear. I suppose I'm not so much responding to you, since I know your view, but others who might read your comment and have the same question. The reality is that some of my taxes in North Park pay for fire stations in Rancho Bernardo. We live in a city, that's how cities work. And the trade-off is that some of my friends in Rancho Bernardo pay taxes that help cover bicycle police in my urban community on the weekend. I don't directly benefit from the RB fire station any more than they benefit from my enhanced police service. The option for those who want to live in a community in which everyone bears the cost of their own externalities alone is to move off the grid so that you are a community of one.