Budget Ax Set to Swing at Fire/Rescue

Fewer fire rigs on San Diego's streets, and fewer lifeguards on city beaches -- with some of their stations facing closure.

Those are among the cost-cutting options for erasing a record municipal deficit -- which stands at $180 million citywide. Public safety spending has been increased significantly in recent years, but now Mayor Jerry Sanders wants $35 million cut just from the fire/rescue department. That figure is about 17 percent of its current budget.

Chief Javier Mainar outlined some ideas in a radio interview Thursday, but he's now under gag orders. The potential cuts he was talking about won't be popular.

"These beaches are for the people, and not everybody knows what they're doing when they're down here," said Pacific Beach resident Lorie McDaniel while sunning herself and talking with a friend on Friday on the sand near Crystal Pier.

"Some days the waves are really big, some days they're not," McDaniel continued. "Kids want to get out and play. Parents don't always know how to help their kids.... If somebody's out there drowning, I want somebody out there to help them."

Chances are, though, that there will be fewer lifeguards on duty throughout the next fiscal year, because budget cuts for public safety services are on the table, and lifeguards fit that profile.

Beyond shorter staffing, consideration is being given to closing lifeguard stations at times. The city has nine permanent stations along the sandiest stretches of 70 miles or so of shoreline.

It's a waterfront that can get problematic.

"I think it's better now that the drinking ban has gone into effect," said Bob Winters, who splits his time between a house in Pacific Beach and summer home in Seattle. "But the flip side of that is that there are more families with children at the beach. So does that mean there's going to be the need for more response in the water?"

Another option is to shut down extra units in fire stations that have a truck or brush rig in addition to an engine. That would apply to 18 of the city's 46 fire stations.

Locals and tourists alike aren't thrilled hearing about that prospect.

"Public safety should override every other concern," said Las Vegas resident Jim Bixler during a stroll on the Mission Beach's oceanfront walk Friday. "You just have to keep that at the highest priority it could have. You can't put the public at risk."

A spokesman for Sanders said that fire-rescue cut options are still under study, as are those involving the police department.

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