Friday, November 07, 2003
San Diego Fire Fallout: The San Diego City Fire Chief Jeff Bowman met Wednesday with the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board.
The story included a variety of information detailing a lack of adequate funding for the fire department, including:
Bowman, named yesterday to a state commission charged with reviewing responses to last week's wildfires and how to be better prepared, cited the following deficiencies:
During the fire, San Diego firefighters ran out of batteries for their portable radios because budget cuts had diminished their supplies. That left some unable to talk to their commanders or one another.
The city's reserve fire engines, thrust into front-line service during major emergencies such as last week's fires, lack up-to-date radios and other equipment.
The department's fleet of engines and trucks, regular or reserve, is among the most antiquated in the nation. One rig is 45 years old.
Water pumps and ladders were not being tested annually until this year.
The department has no money to send commanders out of state for free training by the federal government.
San Diego, the seventh largest city in the country, ranks 40th in firefighters per capita, behind Mesa, Ariz.; Omaha, Neb.; and Memphis, Tenn.
To meet the nationally accepted standard for fire staffing levels, San Diego would need an additional 800 firefighters.
The document some of the information came from, provided by Bowman to the Union-Tribune, wasn't published on the paper's Web site. That's unfortunate, because, while the document does support Bowman's claim about being 40th in the nation in firefighters per capita.
Look, we need more firefighters, but what exactly are we getting for our money? Take a closer look at some of those figures.
Baltimore County, Md. has approximately the same annual budget (I believe the figures are in the millions of dollars, the document provided by Bowman didn't specify that) as San Diego, yet is able to employ 785 more firefighters. Why? Bowman notes that we aren't spending enough money on equipment (one of those vehicles is 45 years old?!), where is that money going to?
Compare San Diego to Denver, Colo. Denver has one fewer firefighter than San Diego, yet its budget 61 percent of San Diego's. Why the difference? A cost-of-living calculator shows that San Diego's housing market can't explain all of the difference.
Those are some questions that need to be answered. If the money isn't going to firefighters and it's not going to equipment, then where is it going?
[If you're interested in taking a look at the actual document, you can find it here. Warning, the file is large.]