San Diego Lifeguard Union votes to separate from San Diego Fire-Rescue Department
SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — The San Diego Lifeguard Union voted Wednesday night to separate itself from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
The vote was taken at Marina Village, with 76 votes to leave SDFD and 18 votes to stay. Ninety-two percent of the 102 eligible lifeguard voted.
The lifeguard union is recommending that a new department be formed called the "Marine Safety Department," which will oversee the lifeguards.
They argue this move will streamline operations, boost morale and save the city money.
The desire to separate from the fire department stems from recent changes to procedure in regards to dispatching inland water rescue calls, said Lifeguard Union Leader Ed Harris. Emergency calls were changed to route from police dispatchers to the fire department instead of directly to the lifeguards.
Harris claims this slows down response times and that less resources are available because of the taxpayer cost from sending firefighters and fire engines to situations that were historically handled by lifeguards.
In March of this year, San Diego Fire Chief Brian Fennessy said in a statement 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 back in March. "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.”