Firefighters worry about shortage in reserve fire engines

City says it needs more mechanics

SAN DIEGO - San Diego firefighters are worried about a shortage of reserve or backup fire engines.

City Council is scheduled to hear the findings of an independent audit regarding the city's fleet maintenance division at its meeting Tuesday.

Union leaders say the city is down to just four reserve engines. The union president, Frank De Clercq, maintains the standard is one reserve for every front line engine. That is 47 engines.

"My concern would be that we have these vehicles up and ready so that when that event, that time takes place, and we're all recalled, our crews have the engines to get on," De Clercq told 10News.

There are nearly two dozen fire vehicles parked at the city's fleet maintenance yard in Kearny Villa. De Clercq said there is a shortage of mechanics to work on them.

"They're backlogged right now, just trying to do the general maintenance and repairs of things that break down today, they can't keep up with it," he said.

According to De Clercq, an engine for Fire Station 17, the busiest in the city, has been sitting in a repair shop in Ontario for months.

San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar agrees the situation is not ideal, but he told 10News he only needs 15 to 20 reserve engines. He said the city does have 15 right now, but they are considered "stripped" engines, or engines that are not fully equipped.

"It's not that the equipment doesn't exist," said Mainar. "It's just in other locations and we'd have to take the time to load it onto those strip reserve engines. They're fully capable. They're just missing the equipment. It's just in the midst of an emergency, you don't want to have to do that."

De Clerq said, "You can't throw this stuff together on a whim. The reason they refer to them as a ready reserve – that means they are ready and they are reserved to go to work."

He added, "You bring a few hundred people to get on these things, to try to stop a big conflagration, they can't be trying to get something started or try to put a battery in or try to put hose on. Hodge-podging it together is not the intent."  

City leaders say there are 66 vacancies right now in the fleet maintenance division. They said the implementation of managed competition, which allows private companies to bid on public work, is part of the problem. 

James Nagelvoort, the city's director of public works, said the city is still working with Local 127 to relocate staff and train employees.

"We have more staff assigned to other types of vehicle types and not assigned to the fire fleet and not trained for the fire fleet," said Nagelvoort.

Nagelvoort said managed competition is saving the city $4 million a year, but there have been growing pains.

"You're not going to get synergies right away," he said. "People, when you bring them together, it isn't instantaneous, so we are still looking at having to train staff."

They hope to increase the number of reserve engines by the summer.

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