San Diego

Traffic Hassles Add to City's New Fire Stations Quest

SDFD adds two-member "fast response squads," assigned to three areas

San Diego is facing complex challenges getting ten more fire stations that consultants say are desperately needed in so-called “coverage gaps”.

While the city's about halfway there, it has a lot more residents, medical emergencies and cross-town traffic to handle now than when the consultants made that recommendation in 2010.

“We have some of the worst traffic in the country during our commute hours, and we feel that as firefighters. It's frustrating,” said Alan Arrollado, president of San Diego Fire Fighters Local 145.

“It's hard to get around and it makes it very difficult, and we don't see any relief in that area as well,” Arrollado told NBC 7 in an interview Friday. “We see traffic getting worse with the growth we're anticipating."

It's a great day when ground for new fire stations is broken by the politicians.

It's been a rare day too, since the Great Recession that came on the heels of San Diego's financial debacles.

But even once they open to public fanfare, studies show that engines in half of the stations can't get to emergencies within five minutes on first alarms during commute hours.

The department has only six percent coverage of what's called the "street network" if several units are needed to "cross large sections" of the city during those rush hours.

"With the synthetics that we're seeing in the buildings today,” Arrollado noted. “We're seeing our fires growing at a much faster rate and a much greater intensity."

All the more reason for units to get on-scene more quickly.

Two-member "fast response squads" are assigned to three areas -- the latest one, in a house on Governor Drive that's costing taxpayers $3,500 a month over a three-year lease.

For neighbors in University City, that's a comforting setup.

"They show up at 8 o'clock in the morning and leave at 8 o'clock at night, and right on time,” said homeowner Jeff Newman. “They don't run their sirens until they’re away from the houses. They're very respectful neighbors and it's great having them here."

San Diego's Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) chief said covering the gaps during peak periods is a key investment.

"There's never going to be enough. So we've got to be creative, we've got to identify ways that we can provide those services in a manner that are different and unique but are consistent with what the public expects."

The City Council's Public Safety Committee takes up the issues next week -- knowing SDFD is way understaffed.

And operating costs are such that maintaining new stations will be as hard as locating affordable space and building them.

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