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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.