As promised, I’ve been spending some time checking into the mayor’s announcement today that the Fire Department now has 18 ready reserve engines in its fleet.

The department has been trying, and failing, to meet its goal of 18 reserve rigs for some time. Late last month I reported that the department only had six reserve engines ready to go, and I wanted to figure out how that figure had jumped so quickly.

It turns out there are a couple of ways of defining what’s the department has “in reserve,” something I figured out this morning when I spoke to Frank DeClercq, vice president of Local 145, the firefighters union.

DeClercq is also a captain, and he’s been very vocal in the past about the department’s provision of adequate vehicles for firefighters. He wasn’t happy about the mayor’s press conference today.

He said the claim that there are 18 fire rigs in reserve is completely misleading. That’s because, on any given day, he said, many of the department’s “reserve” rigs are actually in service as front-line rigs at San Diego’s fire stations, replacing front-line engines that are being serviced or are being repaired.

The true number of rigs the department has in “reserve,” for an emergency such as a huge wildfire, therefore depends on how many of the reserve engines have been called into use at that time.

Fire Chief Tracy Jarman said that is, indeed, the case. The department has a total pool of 18 “ready reserve” engines, she said, but at any time the number of rigs that are actually just sitting there “in reserve” can be lower, because some of the reserve rigs have been put into active service.

So, how many rigs does the department have, in reserve, not on duty, right now? I asked. Nine, Jarman said.

And that’s better than what she had to work with before, she said.

“It’s the best I’ve ever seen it in my history with the Fire Department,” she said.

Jarman said that the boost in reserve rigs is the result of eight new fire engines that have been delivered to the department as part of its ongoing fleet replacement program. That program was started by Jarman’s predecessor, Jeff Bowman, who’s also been very critical about what he calls a dire lack of funding for new firefighting apparatus.

As those eight new rigs were put into the front-line fleet, Jarman said, eight of the older trucks were brought out to use as reserves, this boosting the total number of “ready reserve” rigs to 18.

Jarman also said the department expects to receive another eight brand-new rigs by November. Those new rigs should be in service by Jan. 1, she said, which will provide another boost to the reserve fleet.


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