By Monty McIntyre
I believe we should create a new Marine Safety Department operated by the San Diego Lifeguard Services.
San Diego City Hall is broken. It’s making too many bad decisions and is not managing our city well. Most San Diegans agree with this diagnosis.
We need to reform our city departments to make them better organized, more responsive, and more cost-efficient.
A new Marine Safety Department can be a shining example showing other city departments how to become better organized, more responsive, and more cost-efficient. To do this, however, we need to separate our lifeguards from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
San Diego’s lifeguards have been patrolling our coastline for over 100 years. These men and women have become national leaders in not only standard water rescues, but also in surf vessel operation, marine firefighting, swiftwater rescue and coastal cliff rescue.
Often working by themselves or in small teams, the San Diego lifeguards are responsible for all coastal water rescues, inland flood rescues, coastal cliff rescues, marine firefighting on Mission Bay and a host of other tasks. Annually this group of approximately 100 permanent staff and 200 seasonal lifeguards perform an average of 7,000 water rescues, over 50 cliff rescues and hundreds of flood rescues. And as the populations of both residents and visitors continue to grow, so to do the needs of the service.
For many years our San Diego lifeguards have provided responsive and cost-effective public safety services. Our lifeguards work hard to avoid surplus overtime. They use in-house mechanics to maintain their vessels and specialty vehicles. Several years ago, lifeguards entered into a public-private partnership with Toyota for their fleet of vehicles, saving the city over $1 million each year.
When responding to emergencies, Lifeguards do so with efficient resource allocation. For example, on a coastal cliff rescue Lifeguard Services uses only seven responders, each with a specific task. By contrast, San Diego Fire-Rescue’s cliff rescue group includes approximately 20 responders!
Given the proven ability of the lifeguard division to manage itself well, now is the time to move it out of the San Diego Fire-Rescue chain of command and into its own department. This will allow lifeguards to provide the most responsive and most cost-effective service to our residents and visitors.
As a 50-year resident of San Diego, I’ve often watched our highly trained and motivated lifeguards do their work. It’s comforting to know that they are always ready when someone needs their help.
With a new Marine Safety Department, our lifeguards can help lead the way in reforming our city departments to make them better organized, more responsive, and more cost-efficient.
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