San Diego

Lifeguards Consider Breaking Away From San Diego Fire-Rescue Department

Concern over new 911 dispatching methods one of the major concerns

The local lifeguard’s union is considering the possibility of breaking away from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD).

The issue was discussed Wednesday night during a union meeting at the Marina Village.

Union head Sgt. Ed Harris said members are concerned about dispatch changes which routes all water-related 911 calls the fire department instead of directly to lifeguards who have historically made all water rescues.

“It adds a step that slows down the process getting someone there to help you," explained Harris.

The issue with the new system played out earlier this year at the La Jolla Children's Pool, said Harris.

He said lifeguards were called out late to save a woman swept off a cliff.

After the incident happened in January, a city spokeswoman told NBC 7 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.

Changes to swift water rescue teams are also a concern for the union. Lifeguard Adam Larkin said he is concerned about water training for firefighters.

“When we're going in, we have to know who our backup is. All lifeguards we work with, we all know each other and train and we have each other’s backs," Larkin said, adding, "that’s not to say fire might not have our back."

Lifeguards say this is nothing against the firefighters who they often work with and respect. They said they are just concerned about consistent water training and the possibility firefighters could be moving in on their jobs.

The lifeguard union heads said they presented their grievances to Mayor Kevin Faulconer's office Wednesday after they weren't resolved by the fire department.

NBC 7 reached out to a spokesman for the mayor after hours, but have not received a response.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the SDFD Chief Brian Fennessy sent NBC 7 a statement on Thursday, which read:

"In the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, we are in the business of saving lives and keeping our neighborhoods safe. That was never more evident than during the recent storms when lifeguards and firefighters worked together for the common good and saved lives. It’s unfortunate that Local 911 leadership would suggest public safety has been compromised in some way to score political points. Nothing could be further from the truth. Using scare tactics like that as a public safety professional is irresponsible and dangerous. Statewide, the services that local lifeguards provide fall within the scope of local fire departments. Creating a separate department for lifeguards would be unprecedented, do nothing to improve public safety and increase costs. 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."

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