San Diego Lifeguards apologize to Texas officials in letter

Lifeguards blame SDFRD for not letting them help
Posted at 5:40 AM, Aug 29, 2017

UPDATE (10:48 p.m.): San Diego's Swift Water Rescue team is made up of three firefighters and 11 lifeguards. They spent Tuesday evening loading up three trucks, four trailers and five watercraft with food and equipment in anticipation of the rough24-hour drive to Texas.

The move comes after President Donald Trump saw the devastation first hand during a tour of the hardest hit areas. The president ordered the deployment of 100 swift water rescue units from across the country.

California's Office of Emergency Services is still waiting for the formal request, but expects to order its 13 SWR teams, including the one in San Diego.


SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A top San Diego Lifeguard said crews will not be heading to the Houston area to help in relief and rescue efforts because of a San Diego Fire-Rescue Department order.

San Diego Lifeguards Sgt. Ed Harris, who is also the lifeguards' union leader, sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston citizens apologizing for not sending help.

In the letter, Harris said SDFRD officials told him and his River Rescue Team to stand down. Despite being ready to leave for Houston, Harris said his team was asked to unpack their equipment and turn their boats over to the fire department.

Harris added that SDFRD crews would be going to Texas instead.

Harris said he and other lifeguards asked for time off so they can bring their own boats and trucks to help -- on their own time -- but that vacation-time request was denied.

"We have plenty of staff to send, but we are blocked," Harris said in the letter.

The full letter:

Dear Governor Abbott, Mayor Turner and citizens of Houston,

I am sorry to tell you that we are not coming. I am a San Diego Lifeguard Sergeant. We have a River Rescue Team that is nationally recognized. Our guards spent weeks rescuing people during hurricane Katrina. We saw this storm approaching Thursday and packed our bags. The team hooked up the taxpayer funded CAL-OES trailer and boats that have sat in storage for this type of event. They waited for the call to go that would surely come quickly. It did not. On Saturday, our team was informed to unpack and take the boats over to the Fire Department. They will go. Our team stayed packed and readied more boats and asked to go. Sunday came and we listened to your pleas for help; still we are not sent. Today some guards and I asked for time off so that we could drive our own boats and trucks on our own time. We planned to be there by 3 pm Tuesday. This was in response to your cries for anyone with a boat. We were denied vacation to come help you. The Coast Guard reports through CNN that there are thousands in need and the worst is yet to come, still we sit here. We have plenty of staff to send, but we are blocked.

As professional lifeguards, we are saddened that there are moms, grandmas and children that we could rescue if we were only allowed to go help. We are sickened that Chief Brian Fennessy has blocked our response. Former San Diego Fire Deputy Chief Doug Nakama is now Chief of Special Operations, OES for Governor Brown (Cell: 619-381-7800 and Nakama knows that we have ability and numerous resources. He knows that we are self-sustained and could leave with an hours notice. He does not send us. It is with heavy hearts that we send this apology. We can only hope that if our families were in need, someone would come. Attached is a photo of our CAL-OSHA truck packed and sitting in the yard.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The reference to "CAL-OSHA" in the letter should read "CAL-OES."