If you live near a fire station affected by the city’s rolling brownouts, it takes fire crews an average of between two and 35 seconds longer to respond to emergency calls, according to this updated monthly report from Fire Chief Javier Mainar. Citywide, the average response time to emergency calls has increased five seconds from last year.

Five seconds or even 35 might not sound like a large increase, but fire officials say each second is crucial when responding to emergencies.

Mainar is scheduled to discuss the updated report at a City Council committee meeting next Wednesday. Earlier this week, Mainar said the brownouts slowed the department’s response to a toddler choking in Mira Mesa. It took paramedics nine-and-a-half minutes to arrive, and the boy, 2-year-old Bentley Do, later died. It remains unclear whether a faster response could have prevented his death.

Mainar’s new report doesn’t address the child’s death, but provides more information about how the brownouts have affected Mira Mesa.

Since the Fire Department implemented the brownouts in February, up to eight engines have been placed out of service on a rolling basis to save $11.5 million annually. Ten stations rotate having one engine out of service. Three others, including Station 44 in Mira Mesa, have one of their two available engines always out of service.

Mainar’s report compares the department’s response times between Feb. 6 and July 15 with the same time period last year. Although the department aims to respond to calls within five minutes, it’s met that goal 54 percent of the time this year.

In Mira Mesa, emergency crews met that goal 40 percent of the time last year and 33 percent of the time this year. That was the second largest drop among the 13 fire stations affected by the brownouts. Station 21 in Pacific Beach fell more, from 62 percent to 50 percent.

Mira Mesa’s average response time slowed by 19 seconds to six minutes, seven seconds. Response times among the 13 stations affected by brownouts slowed more elsewhere. Station 21 in Pacific Beach climbed the most, rising by 35 seconds to five minutes, 13 seconds. Times also increased at fire stations in Rancho Peñasquitos, San Ysidro and North Park by more than 20 seconds.

But Mira Mesa does stand alone in one statistical measure. Compared to the other 12 fire stations, the area served by Station 44 saw the largest decline in the number of calls. While other stations received more calls, Mira Mesa dropped by 9 percent from last year. It had 10 fewer fire calls and 61 fewer medical calls. That’s notable because response times generally improve when crews are less busy. But in Mira Mesa, response times have continued to climb despite fewer incidents.

Do’s death came after the report’s timeframe, but will certainly be a central part of next week’s council committee discussion.

Marti Emerald, the committee’s chairwoman, said she wants to see at least three fire engines come back into service and would again call upon the mayor to use reserves to fund them. She said the Fire Department would need about $1.4 million per engine.


Dagny Salas

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.

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