Emergency response was delayed for a woman swept away by a wave during last week’s storm, according to the head of the lifeguard’s union, Ed Harris.
Harris said the delay was a result of recently implemented policy changes that will send some water emergency calls to the Fire Department, instead of Lifeguards. However, the city said the change in policy applies only to inland water rescues and should not have impacted the coastal emergency.
On Jan. 21, bystanders called 911 after watching a wave sweep a woman off rocks near the Children’s Pool in La Jolla. A bystander rescued the woman from the high surf, and she was not hurt badly.
The call was received in the police’s dispatch system and then sent to the Fire Department, which responded. Lifeguards never received the call until after firefighters were on scene and called to see if lifeguards planned to respond.
A city spokeswoman said she is looking into the incident further to find out why lifeguards were not dispatched. Katie Keach said the change was only meant to impact inland water rescues.
“This change does not apply to 911 calls pertaining to coastal water rescue emergencies, calls pertaining to Mission Bay rescue emergencies, or calls to water emergencies for any other bodies of water. These calls will continue to be routed as per current protocols by SDPD,” Keach said.
The union for the lifeguards have filed a grievance with the city to oppose the changes.
Harris said they were implemented too quickly and without enough training.
He said a key issue for civilian dispatchers will be dispatching crews to the correct location when often the only thing a caller can tell the lifeguard dispatcher is what house is in front of them on the shore.
“The first thing we train lifeguards on is: knowing the topography of the shoreline all the way from Point Loma to Torrey Pines beach. They have to know every landmark and every reef,” Harris said. “People will often call and say ‘Someone’s not breathing. I’m on the beach. I don’t really know where.’”