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The City Council’s public safety committee is scheduled to discuss a proposal tomorrow that aims to reinforce the Fire Department’s current practices by requiring four-person staffing for fire crews.

The proposal comes amid criticism of the city’s decision to idle up to eight fire engines on a rolling basis. Putting the engines out of service and shifting staff has reduced the Fire Department’s overtime costs, but it’s also increased response times.

As an alternative, some residents and City Hall observers have renewed interest in cutting fire crews to three-person staffing. That could make more engines available and increase coverage, but it could also reduce the ability of fire crews to provide the same level of service they do today.

The Union-Tribune wrapped up the discussion surrounding three-person staffing in an article Saturday. Here’s one excerpt:

One of the main arguments against staffing with three is that it conflicts with the “two-in, two-out” rule, a federal law that requires at least two firefighters to go into a burning building and two to stay outside in case of a rescue.

That means that the first three-person crew on-scene can’t attack the fire right away, and must wait for another engine to arrive. Meanwhile, the blaze continues to grow.

“If we went to a three-person team, it would be embarrassing having to explain to people why we are standing at the door with a nozzle in hand and we can’t put the fire out,” said (Cory Beckwith, a fire captain in University City who also serves as the firefighter union’s vice president.)

The Union-Tribune also surveyed the nation’s 15 largest cities and found that 12 put at least four people on fire engines and trucks. Fire Chief Javier Mainar opposes three-person staffing, saying the city has too few firefighters and fire stations to support that type of system.

Marti Emerald, chairwoman of the City Council’s public safety committee, said she wants to codify four-person staffing to prohibit the mayor from implementing three-person staffing without the City Council’s approval.

“We need to have it stated clearly,” Emerald said. “That’s some place we’re not going.”

However, the City Attorney’s Office has said the proposal would not be enforceable even if the City Council passes it. City law gives sole authority over administrative decisions to the mayor — the City Council can’t usurp those functions. The proposal would only be considered advisory.

A spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders did not immediately respond to my request for comment on three-person staffing. I’ll update the blog when I hear back.

In the meantime, let me know what you think about three-person staffing. Please explain your thoughts in the comments section or send an e-mail to keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org.

— KEEGAN KYLE

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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