The 'brownouts' affecting San Diego fire engine companies are not only driving up response times. They're delaying fire safety inspections and collection of the fee revenues from those inspections.
It's been almost a year since the city began 'browning out' up to eight of its 47 engines every day.
The idea was to save $11.5 million in overtime costs on an annual basis.
But it's also elevated the risk to public safety.
Since the brownouts began, city fire prevention inspectors no longer get much backup from engine company members.
Now, nearly a third of their work is four months overdue while a projected $350,000 worth of inspection fees go uncollected.
"If there's things that are violations, then we try to get them to correct them in a timely fashion," said Frank De Clercq, president of San Diego City Fire Fighters Local 145. "Obviously, if we don't get in there in a timely way to identify and rectify them, it does have some potential ramifications."
Of the fire safety inspectors who are available, says Fire-Rescue Chief Javier Mainar:
"They're doing the best they can out there. We're trying to augment them as best we can with light-duty personnel who still have the capacity to do those inspections."
Meantime, response times both in browned-out districts and citywide keep going up.
On Nov. 29, a Clairemont house ignited by equipment from a marijuana growing operation didn't get an engine response for nearly ten minutes because of a brownout and mechanical or training issues involving four other rigs.
Fire investigators say the delay resulted in an increased property loss, pegged at $600,000.
"We have units go out of service for a variety of reasons, day-in, day-out," Mainar said in an interview Wednesday. "When you pull eight out as part of the brownout reductions to save money, it kind of exacerbates the problems that already exist."
The chairwoman of the Council's Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee wants Mayor Sanders to tap reserves and make further cuts in non-safety departments, to free up nearly $5 million.
"I'm here on behalf of the public, being persistent," Emerald said in an interview prior to Wednesday's committee hearing. "I'm looking for the money we need to restore engines. Now we are finding if we could just restore some staff, we could bring revenues into the city."
But Mary Lewis, the mayor's chief financial officer, told the committee the mayor believes "now is not the time" to make such budget adjustments.
Then, failing to get any of her committee colleagues to second her motion to petition the mayor, Emerald said she would make the request on behalf of herself as a council member.
"I think we're making a very serious mistake not putting the engines back on the street," Emerald remarked.