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San Diego to begin rolling “brown-outs”

What is a “brown out” you ask?

A brown out is a temporary engine closure involving eight of the city’s 47 fire stations. Fire crews will be rotated among other stations and the use of available equipment will be reduced based upon daily needs.

The plan, set to be implemented February 6, will save San Diego approximately $11.5 million in overtime expenses – budgetary savings which are badly needed. Fire departments in Gilroy, Lodi, Los Angeles City, Sacramento City and Santa Rosa have implemented similar plans and several other California cities are considering similar measures.

Many, however, like Councilmember Marti Emerald, are concerned that balancing San Diego’s budget in such a way compromises public safety. Although no fire stations will be closed, San Diego is already 22 fire stations short of its minimum needs and the newly implemented brown-outs will place San Diego at 35% below the national standard for what is considered adequate coverage for a city of our size.

“These engine closures represent an additional 13% reduction in available fire crews and equipment. We are patching the budget deficit by cutting public safety services. We should all be concerned about this,” said Councilmember Emerald.

Under the rolling brown-out plan, 13 stations will no longer house multiple crews permanently. Three will house one crew, as do the other 34 single-unit stations in San Diego and ten will house either two crews or one crew, alternating month to month. Up to eight fire engines will be subject to a brown-out each day.

The stations that have been selected to participate in the brown-outs are: station 1 and 4 (Downtown), station 11 (Golden Hill), station 20 (Midway), station 29 (San Ysidro), station 44 (Mira Mesa), station 12 (Lincoln Park), station 10 (College), station 14 (North Park), station 21 (Pacific Beach), station 28 (Kearny Mesa), station 35 (University City) and station 40 (Rancho Penasquitos).

Fire engines, rather than fire trucks, were selected for the brown-outs because there are currently 47 fire engines located throughout San Diego, as opposed to 12 fire trucks. Engines cover a smaller geographic area than a truck, so consequently another engine can respond quicker to cover the district of a browned-out engine than another truck can cover the district of a browned-out truck.

While the vehicles types are not interchangeable, the fire trucks can provide all of the services provided by the fire engines, with the exception of fire extinguishment. Since only 3% of all emergency incidents are fires, it can be stated that a truck is capable of handling 97% of the incidents that an engine can handle. The reverse is not true. An engine does not carry the specialized equipment needed to handle the types of duties performed by a truck crew. Many of these duties at the scene of a fire are needed for the safety of occupants and firefighters.

San Diego city officials did not identify a timeframe for which the brown-outs will be in place, but the Fire Chief will have the authority to suspend the brown-out plan or re-staff any browned-out engines if current or anticipated emergency conditions warrant.

The Fire Chief will also be responsible for reviewing the plan daily, make adjustments to ensure operational efficiency and also provide monthly updates to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee of City Council.