San Diego

SDFD Chief Criticizes Union Leader for Making False Claims

The statement came in response to claims made by Ed Harris, Sergeant for San Diego Lifeguards and union leader.

The Chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) called out the department's union leader for making false claims regarding disaster assistance in Texas.

"It’s absolutely inappropriate to politicize and personalize this disaster when Texans are suffering and this disaster isn’t over yet," SDFD Chief Brian Fennessy said in a statement.

The statement came in response to claims made by Ed Harris, Sergeant for San Diego Lifeguards and union leader.

Harris said his search and rescue team is on standby, ready to serve Texans in need. Eleven members of the team have been watching Hurricane Harvey closely.  

"To say that there’s not a need, or to put people on standby – if they’re on standby when people are actively drowning, that’s like my lifeguards out on the beach, sitting in their towers and saying, I’m not going to go, I’m going to sit on standby and watch people drown. We don’t do that," Harris said. "We go."

However, Fennessy said the crew is not on standby and there has been no request from the state for that resource. 

The training and certifications needed to be a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search & Rescue California Task Force 8 are strict, Fennessy said. 

Task Force 8 is comprised of 21 agencies across the County, including nearly all of the County's fire departments, and a structural engineer from the Development Services Department, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) spokesperson Monica Munoz said.

The team heading to the devastated parts of Texas include 24 members of the SDFD team as well as members from the Santee Fire Department and Heartland Fire and Rescue Department.

"Our lifeguards do not meet the minimum qualifications. No one is allowed on the team if they do not have the appropriate minimum qualifications," Fennessy said in a statement. "These are not our rules, these are FEMA rules, and they are meant to ensure standardization of responses in emergencies."

"The majority of the work performed by these teams is outside of the scope of lifeguard aquatic duties," Fennessy added.

Harris said the team has been sent to disasters like this before, such as Hurricane Katrina. 

However, Fennessy said, that was not because of FEMA. It happened through a state-to-state agreement called the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC).

The chief said that there appears to be a misunderstanding with Harris about how the system works. The governor requested that San Diego does not self-deploy; authorities have only requested the San Diego-based Task Force 8. 

He said he cannot just send the lifeguards because they want to go. 

"All of us in public safety want to be there. We can’t all be there. There is a system, a tried and true system, that provides the resources during these types of disasters," Fennessy said. "I can’t just send them down there because they want to go."

Lifeguards also requested to use vacation time to go to Texas, but that was denied as well.

This isn't the first time the San Diego Lifeguards and Firefighters have not seen eye-to-eye.

Back in March, the Lifeguards raised concerns over a new dispatch protocol started by SDFD.

The lifeguard union has said its members recently considered breaking off from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Contact Us