A San Diego Lifeguards rescue vehicle. Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Lifeguards in the city of San Diego may be considering seceding from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, but fire officials said the move would do nothing to improve public safety.

In an op-ed Friday in the OB Rag, lifeguard union leader Ed Harris wrote that the issue at hand was recent changes to dispatching procedures in which inland water rescue calls were routed from police dispatchers to the fire department first instead of directly to lifeguards. That means responses take longer, fewer fire department resources are available for other emergencies and taxpayers are on the hook for increased costs stemming from sending firefighters and fire engines to calls historically handled by lifeguards.

“We cannot afford to have the Fire Department divert our trainers, personnel and budget,” Harris wrote. “Teaching Fire Fighters how to swim and perform river rescue is not acceptable.”

Lifeguard union members have filed a grievance in opposition to the changes. Harris said it would soon be heard by San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

The issue of separating from the fire department was brought up at a lifeguard union meeting Wednesday night, according to news reports.

In a statement, San Diego Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said it was unfortunate that lifeguard union leadership would suggest public safety had been compromised in an effort to score political points.

Fennessy said the lifeguard division was a key component in providing seamless services, and that he understood the “tremendous value” lifeguards bring in their everyday interactions with everyone who works, lives near or visits San Diego’s coastal areas. Responding quickly with the right resources remains a top priority and developing a new department would not provide any demonstrable benefit to the community.

“Creating a separate department for lifeguards would be unprecedented, do nothing to improve public safety and increase costs,” Fennessy said. “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.”

—City News Service

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