San Diego's City Council went on the record Monday in support of maintaining a minimum staffing level of four fire fighters for the department's engines and trucks.
That goes both for fire calls and emergency medical calls, which make up the vast majority of the Fire-Rescue Department's 911 calls.
In a budget cycle in which further public safety cuts and layoffs of uniformed personnel are on the table, there's been discussion of three-member crews. Most of the county's 53 fire agencies assign three-member crews, but few agencies in any jurisdiction of San Diego's size across the country do that.
About 85 percent of the Fire-Rescue Department's 100,000 annual calls involve medical situations. With the department facing a 7 percent budget cut next fiscal year, there have been suggestions that assigning more of those calls to ambulances, and going with three-member engine and truck crews, could be more cost-efficient.
But the city's chief of emergency medical services said one out of every three medical calls is diverted to ambulances and that four-member crews are more versatile and can work more quickly in life-or-death situations.
"I guess the question someone might raise is, Can we more thoughtfully, given our budget constraints, respond to emergency medical calls?" said City Councilman Carl DeMaio.
"Every minute is a 10 percent decay in survival," said Dr. James Dunford, the Emergency Medical Services Chief of the city of San Diego. "Every minute, a 10 percent decay. So when you see survivals of 5 or 8 percent, you can pretty well figure out how long it was from the time the person collapsed and the time you got there and did something about it."
DeMaio's budget-consciousness notwithstanding, he joined his colleagues in a unanimous vote for four-member fire-rig staffing on all calls.
But the issue may be revisited if a six-month consultant's study on the department -- due at year's end -- recommends otherwise.