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At-Risk Neighborhoods Get 911 Relief in Budget

Under Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s proposal, a new two-person emergency crew would start in July and a temporary fire station in another at-risk community would come six months later.

Very soon, some of the neediest communities in San Diego will have more first responders to show up at the scene of emergencies.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s proposed budget funds a two-person crew that will serve in Encanto and a new temporary full fire station in Skyline. If approved by the full City Council, the two moves will be the first to remedy disparities first identified three years ago: People living in a small cluster of neighborhoods south and east of downtown, including Skyline and Encanto, are at a greater risk of emergency crews arriving late than other communities across the city.

One reason why city leaders haven’t acted to address this problem before: A new full fire station costs roughly $12 million. Both the solutions outlined in the budget proposal are much cheaper. The temporary station planned for Skyline costs less than half that amount because it’s a trailer that will go on land the city already owns.

The two-person crew will cost $600,000 annually, which primarily includes the cost of personnel. Some Council members had resisted funding such crews because they worried no one would be willing to pay for four-person fire trucks and engines once the two-person crews are in place.

But the two-person crews bow to new realities in emergency services. More than 87 percent of the Fire-Rescue Department’s calls are for medical emergencies, and firefighters have new ways of dousing fires besides running into burning buildings.

Two firefighters, including a paramedic, will work out of a pickup truck that will have medical capabilities and some fire-extinguishing abilities. Fire Chief Javier Mainar said the crew will likely have its home base around the Encanto Recreation Center at 65th and Broadway. The crew is funded as a yearlong pilot program to see if it’ll work at getting rescue crews to deal with emergencies more quickly. Mainar says it will.

“I frankly have a hard time understanding how that would fail,” Mainar said. “If we put our heart and soul into making it happen, it’s going to happen.”

The two-person crew in Encanto is scheduled to start working in July; the Skyline temporary station is expected to open in January.

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