So, I’ve covered the Fire Department’s number of reserve fire rigs, now it’s time to look at how effective those rigs are.

In a couple of calls to Frank DeClercq, vice president of Local 145, San Diego’s firefighter union, told me of his worries about the Fire Department’s fleet of reserve vehicles.

Not only does the department not have enough vehicles, he said, but many of the vehicles it has “should have been in a boneyard long ago.”

Many of the city’s reserve rigs are simply unsuitable for the needs of a modern fire department, DeClercq said. Some of the rigs are more than 20 years old, and some of the engines with a reasonable lifespan of 60,000 miles now have more than 200,000 miles on the odometer. Some of the engine’s odometers are broken, DeClercq said, so you can’t even tell how many miles they’ve driven.

DeClercq also had serious doubts that the department has been able to properly equip its reserve engines. Remember, the new rigs the department just received will be used to replace older engines that are on the frontlines.

When I was writing my review of the department’s fire-preparedness last month, here’s what I concluded about the equipping of reserve apparatus. I’ve included some input from San Diego’s last fire chief, Jeff Bowman:

Many of the new rigs have been fitted by stripping the engines they replaced. That means the older rigs are put into reserve with poorer communications equipment and lack basic safety features like ember separators and emergency lighting.

A couple of the city’s reserve engines also have open cabs, a design now widely considered to be dangerous in fighting wildfires. Firefighters using open-cab rigs in 2003 suffered eye, respiratory and burn injuries.

Bowman said the proper equipping of the reserve vehicles was one of the most important lessons the department should have learned from the Cedar Fire. Providing new communications equipment for the back-up rigs is absolutely crucial, he said, and it still hasn’t happened.

“If [a Cedar Fire-type event] happened today, could people communicate?” Bowman said. “They’re not even doing the basics — that’s as basic as it gets.”

I asked fire Chief Tracy Jarman about the equipment issue and whether the older vehicles should have been retired.

She said the department had ordered lots of new equipment for the eight new engines it just received. However, she said some of the equipment that will go on the new engines will have to be taken from older vehicles.

As for the age and the quality of the apparatus the department has in reserve, Jarman said as new engines are brought in, the very oldest engines can be retired.

That means, Jarman said, that the few engines that are more than 20 years old should be phased out when the department gets its next delivery of engines in November.

And Fire Department spokesman Maurice Luque pointed out that when you have newer engines on the frontlines, vehicles from the frontline fleet are less likely to spend time out of service for repairs. That means the actual number of reserve rigs available for duty is likely to be higher each day.

In a perfect world, Jarman said, it would be nice to have lots of brand-new rigs with brand-new equipment, but she said the mayor’s stepped up to the plate and helped her department make a “step in the right direction.”


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