San Diego Lifeguard Union leaders sues the city

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — What is going on at City Hall? Last month the mayor’s office and council got into a public battle, at times a personal one, over when to schedule an election for Convention Center expansion and SoccerCity.

This month, the tension that’s been brewing for more than a year between the fire chief and the lifeguards union over emergency rescue calls will end up in court.

This too has become personal with Lifeguard Union Chief Ed Harris, calling Fire Chief Brian Fennessy a bully, over the chief mandating 911 calls on inland water rescues go through the fire department first because lifeguard dispatch can be overwhelmed during heavy call volumes in severe weather situations.

Harris said that adds another layer to response time.

"The best way to do this is to continue to do it this the way. It’s worked for 35 years. Send those calls to lifeguard dispatch, we will dispatch fire from there," Harris said.

Harris said after he criticized this change, he was targeted for disciplinary action for inappropriate conduct and the subject of three fact finding inquiries, all of which were dropped.

"What was wrong with the last system? What is the reason for the change? We still have been given no reason that there was any problem, and no real reason for the change that makes sense to us," Harris said.

This dispute dates back to January of last year, a month after the change in policy. Shortly thereafter, a woman was knocked off the rocks and into the ocean and a citizen rescued her before lifeguards even got the call.

Then the near drowning of a toddler at a Mission Bay pond.

But it’s not the only policy dispute.

"The chief came in and within six months, he canceled all lifeguards supervisor meetings that we use to discuss things like this," Harris said.

Harris claimed this change is about growing the fire department’s workforce and budget.

By March of this year, the fire chief had had enough, the simmering dispute had gone public.

"Shame on you Ed Harris. You crossed the line and this is the main reason I’m speaking out publicly," said Chief Fennessy, referring to the lifeguard union chief’s reference to the near drowning of the toddler as unacceptable, unprofessional and embarrassing.

"To politicize a family’s personal tragedy by alleging that there was a delayed response having do do with a 911 call transfer was disgraceful. There was no delayed response," Chief Fennessy said.

This dispute is about the best way to handle inland water rescue calls. It’s not a financial lawsuit, but if Harris wins, the taxpayers will pick up his attorney fees. His lawyer is Cory Briggs.

Categories: Local San Diego News