A new 911 dispatch system has raised concerns with San Diego lifeguards and may have caused confusion on Sunday when a toddler needed rescue near Mission Bay Park.
Sgt. Ed Harris, leader of the lifeguards union and former candidate for San Diego mayor, spoke Tuesday flanked by lifeguards and some members of the community from Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach.
It’s the second time in two weeks the union is calling on San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Brian Fennessy to address concerns about the new dispatch system.
They say the system is confusing dispatchers and adding to response times.
They point to an incident that happened over the weekend in which a child was rescued from the Model Yacht Pond.
Harris said a 911 call came in and firefighters were initially dispatched. One minute later, he said, another 911 call came and lifeguards were dispatched. Lifeguards arrived within two minutes, before firefighters according to Harris.
"Lifeguards do what they do. They got in the boat, they were there within minutes and they were still the first on the scene. They were able to start CPR," Harris said.
On Tuesday, Fennessy said the new system was put in partly to combat the high volume of unanswered 911 calls.
“Our change in dispatch protocol for inland water rescues has resulted in improved service to the community members we serve,” Fennessy said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that the Teamsters Local 911 president is misleading the public by making uninformed and false statements about this change.”
Last week, he responded to questions about a discussion among lifeguards possibly breaking away from the fire department and creating its own agency.
“We are going to continue to respond as one department and not let politics get in the way of doing the right thing for the public we are sworn to serve,” he said.
The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department will hold a news conference Wednesday.
Still, the lifeguard union wants the mayor to respond to the dispatch issue.
“Once we get a response from the mayor, if the mayor upholds our grievance and reverses things and he does not support our position then it will move to city council sometime in April or May,” Harris said.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer's office released a statement later Tuesday.
It read: "The changes Chief Fennessy has made have ensured that 911 water-rescue calls are answered faster and have resulted in better response times. It's ridiculous to suggest otherwise."
The union says they want to make sure this issue is addressed as soon as possible as Spring Break is just around the corner and water rescues usually increase during that time.
Harris served for District 2 on the San Diego City Council from April to December 2014 to serve out Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s term after he was elected mayor.
Harris ran for the seat in 2016 but was defeated in the primary.
The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department includes more than 1300 firefighters, lifeguards, paramedics and civilian personnel with a budget just over $237,000,000, according to the city’s website.