San Diego's budget-cutting policy of 'browning out' fire engines will be coming to an end -- gradually.
Mayor Sanders is juggling city finances to get halfway there by July 1st.
With the rest coming back online, by year's end.
For 14 months now, up to eight of the city's 47 water-pumping engines have gone unstaffed on a daily basis.
Worst outcome: a 2-year-old Mira Mesa boy choked to death on a gumball last summer while the engine stationed a block away was elsewhere, covering for one that was out of service.
Many residents of communities whose engines have been browned out weren't aware of what's been missing -- until Tuesday.
"I had no idea," said Rolando resident Dustin Raab, when told morning that the engine in nearby Station 10, on 62nd Street, has been permanently out of service since February, 2010. "That's crazy."
"I never knew it," said Desajenay Phipps, a neighbor of Raab's. "But I think it was kind of messed up. Because what if somebody's house is burned down by the time the other people get here?"
"I think it's a shame," said College Area resident Mel Sachs, whose neighborhood is within Station 10's coverage area. "If you've got a fire station, it should be operational."
It's yet to be determined which of the engines in the brownout rotations will be returned to service by mid-year, and by January 1st.
Early indications are, there'll be a staggered schedule so as to spread the coverage around until all eight are back on line.
But the fact that it'll be two and a half months before the first four are staffed, and eight and a half months until the fire fleet is at full strength, prolongs the risks that many residents say they wish had never been taken.
"We're still in a budget crisis; we're still reeling from the economic downturn," said Darren Pudgil, Mayor Sanders' press secretary. "So we can't do all of this at one time. We're waiting for some savings to be realized from some of the reforms we're making, and we'll be making reductions in other areas, other services across the city."
In any case, the citywide average response time has gone up by 7 seconds since the brownouts began --across-the board, falling further below nationally accepted benchmarks.
So far, fortunately, no catastrophic brush fires have occurred during the brownouts.
"I think we were very lucky in many, many cases," said Fire-Rescue Chief Javier Mainar. "To those members of the community who suffered longer response times, I apologize. We did the best we could to get a unit to you as quickly as we could.
"But I'm very thankful that hopefully, we're seeing this chapter our of history as moving on," Mainar added. "These are very difficult times for the city."
After analyzing the results of a study it conducted before the brownouts, a consulting firm hired by the mayor's office concluded San Diego needs 10 more engine companies, 9 fast-response teams and 4 ladder truck crews.
The Fire-Rescue Department can only await better budget cycles.