Did Brownout Play Role in Toddler's Death?

The Fire Chief says he doesn’t know

A brownout increased the time it took paramedics to reach a toddler who choked to death on a gum ball, according to San Diego's fire chief.

But police got there within minutes and Fire Chief Javier Mainar said Wednesday he doesn't know whether firefighters could have saved the boy if they'd arrived sooner.

Two-year-old Bentley Do of Mira Mesa died Tuesday night.

The family lives about a block from a fire station in Mira Mesa but that crew was away on another call, filling in for another station whose engine was sidelined by a rotating series of service "brownouts" designed to save money.

Police arrived within five minutes of the call to 911 and began CPR. Fire paramedics arrived 4½ minutes later and took over but the child was pronounced dead at a hospital.

The San Diego City Council has been taking action to change the cost-cutting plan that they say puts lives at risk. The so-called "brownout" plan allows as many as eight fire engines to be removed from service every day. It went into effect in February.

The issue was also highlighted in Golden Hill on March 19 when a 78-year-old man was found dead in his apartment after crews put out the fire. Normally, a fire engine would have arrived from a station three blocks away, but on that day the engine was out of service.

The head of the city's firefighters union said something needs to be done now -- that the safety of firefighters and San Diego's citizens are at risk.

"I know the firefighters and the police officers that were there do the best they can. But minutes matter and seconds matter when you're far away," said Frank De Clercq.

He says he hopes people step forward.

"Whether it's the labor side, elected officials, or the business community. I think it's important to the citizens that we all work together and provide a level of safety to them," Clercq said.

Earlier this month, San Diego City Council members voted to restore funding for the fire engines. Mayor Jerry Sanders has the final say. 

"Cuts have impacts and this is what's going to happen. We made these reductions not lightly, but we were rolling the dice and at some point in time, our luck was going to run out," said Councilmember Todd Gloria.

He says the city still needs new revenue.

"I think it's important for the citizens of San Diego to know that even before the fire station brownouts, we were not operating at the level we should be with our fire department," Gloria said. "If we ever want to get to where people know they can dial 911 and get appropriate, timely, fully complemented response, that we have to look at new revenue."

The city is commissioning it's own fire study, looking at the locations of all the fire stations and their response times.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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