The death of 2-year-old Bentley Do on Tuesday renewed questions about the city’s decision to brownout some fire engines on a rolling basis to save $11.5 million annually. Today, I wanted to explore a few more questions about the Fire Department’s admittedly slow response to the incident.

First, where were fire crews when authorities received the 911 call about the choking toddler? Using a list of addresses from the Fire Department helped me create the map above. It shows Do’s location, the nearest fire stations and the two nearest fire engines.

Here’s how fire officials explained what happened: The fire engine closest to the scene was already responding to another medical call, so dispatchers sent the second closest available unit from Scripps Ranch. After police arrived at the scene and told dispatchers about the gravity of the situation, dispatchers told the closest fire engine to respond.

It ended up taking nine-and-a-half minutes before the closest engine arrived. Emergency responders aim to arrive in less than five.

Second, I asked the Fire Department to provide tapes for the two 911 calls. I wanted to hear how people described the choking incident to dispatchers and how authorities responded. I also wanted to hear how the other medical call was playing out. Why did dispatchers decide the choking incident was initially less serious than the other medical call?

The Fire Department said it would not provide a copy of the 911 tapes, citing health privacy laws.

And third, I wanted to know more about the fire engine that was in service in Mira Mesa but didn’t respond to the choking incident. At the time, the fire engine was at the scene of a call in Nestor. The unit doubles as one of the city’s two specialized hazardous materials engines. Since the other specialized unit was already involved in a call elsewhere, the Mira Mesa engine was sent miles away from its home neighborhood.

At the press conference yesterday, I asked Fire Chief Javier Mainar why Mira Mesa had the specialized unit and why it wasn’t moved to a different location when the brownouts started earlier this year. He said the department considered moving the unit, but every other community pushed against taking it because of the coverage problem it creates.

“The problem is all you do is transfer the problem,” Mainar said.

Please share your thoughts and questions about this incident in the comments section. If you would rather express your comments privately, you can send an e-mail to

Clarification: An earlier version of this story included a map that didn’t show the nearest fire station to the incident. It has been updated to show the two nearest fire stations.


Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.