As first-responders, we understand the importance of short response times and their effect on saving lives and property. But getting to an emergency quickly is only effective if the resource arriving is well-equipped and properly staffed.
A four-person paramedic engine team, the backbone of all metropolitan fire departments, is equipped and trained to handle all single-patient medical emergencies.
True medical emergencies require up to six people – including ambulance transport – to effectively address. Have you ever seen how many medical professionals are needed in an emergency room when a patient needs CPR? That is the same procedure we follow in your living room.
The City Council-commissioned Citygate report evaluated the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department’s coverage and response capability. It recommended adding resources. As firefighters, we have known for years that we are understaffed and under-equipped. We haven’t added resources downtown since the 1970s. We are stretched thin.
Unfortunately, the author of the report chose San Diego to conduct an experiment with low staff and resources. He even acknowledged that no other metropolitan city has tried the concept of using a two-person squad as a standalone unit.
The report asserts that San Diego has geographic areas that aren’t the same size as the districts most standard engine companies serve. It also states these areas are difficult to serve in acceptable response times. So, the report concluded, half-districts could be served by half-engines. The problem is that these districts don’t have half-emergencies.
A two-person squad requires a four-person engine to respond with them to ensure enough people are on hand to address the emergency. Often, the two-person crew can handle the emergency on their own and they cancel the engine en route. These calls, however, aren’t true emergencies.
The challenge all first-responder agencies face is trying to figure out early how urgent a situation truly is based on frantic 911 calls.
The Encanto experiment with the two-person Squad 55 is still ongoing. This experiment is costing the city about $600,000 a year, about half the personnel expense of a four-person engine. But Squad 55 is only staffed 12 hours a day. So, the city is paying half-price for quarter-service. We have to ask – is this an effective use of taxpayer dollars?
That’s not to say two-person squads couldn’t be useful elsewhere. This approach could be especially effective in the San Pasqual area of the city. The risks in this area are mostly medical emergencies at the Safari Park and traffic accidents on Highway 78 east of Escondido. On red flag days, we could increase staffing to address the wildfire risk like what we saw during the 2007 Witch Fire.
Encanto needs and deserves a four-person engine. We have known this for years. Encanto, like other areas of the city — Mt Soledad, Santaluz, La Jolla – is difficult to serve. But most other difficult-to-serve areas get four-person engines. The citizens of Encanto should demand equal service.
San Diego is a major metropolitan city. That means we have major metropolitan risks. In fact, our risks are often considered greater than other cities’ because of our geography and diversity. Very few fire departments have to deal with the wildfire-urban interface, high-rises, hazardous materials, major airports, major sports venues, transportation risks and the world’s busiest international port of entry all within their service area.
The people of San Diego deserve world-class emergency service to match the city that we are.
Alan Arrollado is president of San Diego City Fire Fighters Local 145. Arrollado’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.