Fire Dept. says ‘brownout’ policy did not factor in death of quadriplegic

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Authorities released the name Tuesday of a 43-year-old quadriplegic killed last week by an intense fire that tore through his Pacific Beach apartment.

Firefighters found Richard Shirley dead in bed at his rental residence in the 2000 block of Diamond Street last Wednesday afternoon, according to the county Medical Examiner's Office and San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Shirley accidentally sparked the blaze with a cigarette that ignited his medicinal oxygen supply, SDFRD spokesman Maurice Luque said.

The fire broke out shortly before 2 p.m. in a neighborhood periodically affected by city budget-cutting reductions in emergency-services availability.

Under the 15-month-old “brownout” program, engine companies at 13 of the city's 47 fire stations are deactivated for a month at a time on a rotating basis, leaving up to eight of them unavailable each day. The firefighters who otherwise would staff those vehicles fill in for other crew members who are absent from duty.

On the day of Shirley's death, the nearest fire station did not have a fire engine at its disposal, which resulted in a roughly 90-second lag in the arrival of a water- and hose-equipped vehicle from La Jolla, according to Luque.

Due to the explosive origin of the blaze, however, even the quickest possible response likely would not have saved Shirley, who was believed to have died moments after the fire broke out, the spokesman said.

Mayor Jerry Sanders' latest budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year would phase out the brownouts, returning four fire engines on July 1 and the rest at the beginning of next year. Restoring the full fleet of water-pumping vehicles also has been a top stated priority of the City Council.

Categories: KUSI