fire response

San Diego is hiring an outside firm to examine how long it takes the fire department to respond to emergencies and to provide a blueprint for improving in the future. Right now, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department is far from meeting the national standard, which calls for engines to arrive within 5 minutes 90 percent of the time.

The department met that goal 56 percent of the time in February through April, according to an inewsource analysis of city data. In February, to save an estimated $11.5 million, the city began a “brownout” policy in which up to eight engines are idled on a rotating basis.

The city still is working out details of a no-bid contract with Sacramento-based Citygate Associates to do the study, which is expected to cost about $70,000, said Maurice Luque, spokesman for the fire department.

Luque said the city isn’t competitively bidding the contract because it’s “very specialized work” that few firms perform, and Citygate has the most experience. The company will examine the locations of fire stations in conjunction with coverage area, population density and topography, among other things.

Luque didn’t know when the city would finalize the contract but said it would take about six months to complete.

In a recent interview with inewsource, Fire Chief Javier Mainar said a study like this could help the city establish its own response time benchmark that would be more realistic than the national one given the lack of resources. Travel difficulties, community design and building codes must be considered, he said, and with a longer response-time standard a single fire station could cover more ground.

Accreditation guidelines call for a station to cover no more than nine square miles. However, twelve stations in the city exceed that limit, including Rancho Bernardo, which serves 26 square miles and Scripps Ranch, which covers 23. Previous studies and reports have identified the need for 11 to 22 new stations to fill in service gaps across the city.

Citygate did a similar study for San Diego County last year.

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