Strapped City Needs New, Upgraded Fire Stations

Drought, budget woes raise concerns about fire coverage

In the midst of a third drought year, San Diego is thirsting for money to build badly needed new fire stations -- or, at the very least, to fully staff the ones it has, several of which require major upgrades.

According to a report  that Fire-Rescue Dept. Chief Tracy Jarman delivered Wednesday to a City Council committee, it will cost $62 million to build seven new stations and renovate seven others in areas where response times range from 7 to 10 minutes.

"Ten minutes -- a house can go down in 10 minutes," said Joel Garcia, who was grocery shopping in a mall near Station 47 in Pacific Highlands Ranch, which opened in February 2008 and was the last station built in the city. "Ten minutes is definitely longer than is acceptable."

"Right now, we're just basically looking at where we can get in 10 minutes, 9 minutes, 8 minutes, and take it in one-minute bands and prioritize it," Jarman said in an interview.

She said the cost of staffing those new and upgraded stations, whenever there's enough money, would total about $33 million a year.

The Fire-Rescue Department has a wish list of 15 more new stations that would cost a combined $126 million, with $41 million in annual operating costs.

Because recession has starved the city's budget and reduced "developer impact fees" and private-property assessments to a trickle, the odds of a new station coming online in the next year or two are long, in Jarman's view.

"So we need to pick the communities that have the greatest need and at least start to move forward," Jarman said.

Residents of nearby communities which Station 47 serves directly -- or provides mutual aid to -- expressed concern about the funding shortage

"I'm for a little more tax to make sure we're covered," said Barbara Lampitt, whose home in Fairbanks Ranch is across the street from two that burned down in the October 2007 Firestorm. "I'm in the area where we do get fires."

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