Three of the five neighborhoods in San Diego with the greatest risk for a delayed emergency response are in the city’s Fourth Council District. For years, the city has known about these problems, but no one has put any money toward building new fire stations.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

District 4 Councilwoman Myrtle Cole wants a fix. She asked interim mayor Todd Gloria Tuesday to estimate the cost of putting a temporary station in one of the neighborhoods, Skyline, until the city finds a permanent solution.

A city consultant ranked Skyline the fourth most at-risk neighborhood for a late response. But unlike the neighborhoods ahead of it on the list – Home Avenue in City Heights, Paradise Hills and College Area – the city owns land in Skyline where a new station is supposed to go. Cole likened a potential temporary station in Skyline to a situation in Mission Valley where the Fire-Rescue Department has used a trailer-turned-makeshift station in Qualcomm Stadium’s parking lot. (The city recently funded a permanent station in Mission Valley to replace the trailer.)

“A temporary station, similar to Fire Station 45 in Mission Valley, could address service gaps immediately while funding is sought for the design and construction of a permanent facility,” Cole wrote in a memo to Gloria.

Cole wants Gloria to provide a cost estimate for the temporary Skyline station by October.

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Cole brought up her request for the temporary fire station at a Wednesday Council committee hearing on the city’s ambulance services.

The Fire-Rescue Department works in tandem with the private Rural/Metro ambulance company to deliver the city’s emergency services. A first responder, typically a fire engine, is supposed to show up within seven minutes and 30 seconds to the highest-priority medical emergencies. An ambulance is required to be there within 12 minutes.

A battle is brewing over who gets to run San Diego’s ambulances, and fire union President Frank De Clercq argued at the hearing that the Fire-Rescue Department could do a better job than a private company. He says the department could put an ambulance in all 47 of the city’s fire stations – more than the two to three dozen Rural/Metro uses.

“What we believe is 47 ambulances is certainly better than 18 or 25 or 30,” De Clercq said.

De Clercq seemed to take a different approach than more-is-better last week.

De Clercq told me then he didn’t want to see the city add a two-person fire crew in Encanto right away. A city consultant recommended installing a two-person crew there at a cost of $800,000 as a cheaper alternative to a full station. De Clercq said he wanted the city to build four new full stations in the neighborhoods ahead of Encanto on the city consultant’s priority list before it tried the two-person option. Each new fire station costs about $12 million, including a year of staffing costs – so they’d take a while.

After Wednesday’s hearing, De Clercq told me that his comments last week simply reiterated what he believed were the consultant’s recommendations – that the four other stations should happen first. If the Council funded the two-person crew, he said, the union would be happy to have it right now.

“Bring that on,” he said.

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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