Speaker 1: (00:00)
As a surgeon, cases of COVID continue to impact aspects of daily life. Emergency responders are among the hardest hit by the increasing rate of infection. More than 100 San Diego firefighters are currently in isolation due to potential exposure to the coronavirus. And the sheer number of staff shortages impacts your services across the department. The San Diego Tribune Union, Journalist Lindsey Winkle, Lindsey are now joining me along with others. Welcome to the program.
Speaker 2: (00:29)
Oh, thank you very much for having me. Then how
Speaker 1: (00:31)
Have these shortages affected firefighting services in San Diego?
Speaker 2: (00:35)
So yesterday we concocted a story that sort of explains this cause of the large number of firefighters who have either tested positive for the coronavirus and are in mandatory state isolation or they have just been exposed to the virus and they are sorted to wait for the test results. The ministry has developed what is called an emergency plan. And essentially, it indicates which fire crews will be slowed down or limited if staffing shortages require it. And
Speaker 1: (01:07)
What percentage of staff in the department are currently under an isolation protocol,
Speaker 2: (01:12)
113 firefighters are isolated at this stage, and there are around 960 firefighters in total in the department. So that’s one, that’s a pretty big total.
Speaker 1: (01:24)
And how has the department responded to these persistent shortages? I mean, do they have any plans in place? You mentioned brown
Speaker 2: (01:31)
Outs which is essentially the department’s response to its staffing shortages. And basically what the brown out plan does is it creates a sort of roadmap for the types of units or teams that will be taken offline so that the department can staff as many positions as it needs. possible. Uh, so the idea is that if they don’t have enough bodies to move, what positions are they going to exist on any given day, do we see a
Speaker 1: (02:02)
Will emergency response times be delayed due to these infections? It is
Speaker 2: (02:08)
Definitely too early to say if there’s a noticeable impact on response times, but department heads said yesterday that’s obviously a possibility, you know, anytime you pull firefighters or fire crews out. front lines, it is possible that this means that responses to particular calls will take longer. It is also a risk for firefighters. You know, firefighters obviously work within their own teams, but they rely on nearby teams to help them in the event of a skid. So if you have fewer people who are able to respond to a particular incident or offer emergency support, you know, obviously you may see some impacts. But yeah, too early to say definitively, if, if we saw anything that would be considered, you know, impact those brownouts. And
Speaker 1: (02:59)
One of the most notable actions taken has been the temporary shutdown of some specialist teams, such as the Mobile Operations Retail and Bomb Squad. Can you explain their roles within the department? The
Speaker 2: (03:11)
Are three specialist teams that are sort of the first to be taken offline. That includes the detail of mobile operations, which is actually a two-person team that only works Friday and Saturday nights in the Gas Lamp Quarter. There’s also what’s called Squad 55. It’s actually another two-person crew. They work longer shifts, 12-hour shifts from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. in Southeast San Diego. And then you have the Bomb Squad. So the bomb squad, another two-man squad, has been with them for about a year. And when that unit shuts down, those two people have actually just integrated into an engine business. However, you know, if a bomb call happens, they’re still pulled out to sort it out. So while it seems to be the biggest problem, the biggest problem actually is when departments have such a shortage that they have to cut engine manufacturers. And it is the four-person teams made up of a fire engineer captain and an ambulance firefighter who answer the vast majority of calls in our city.
Speaker 1: (04:09)
As we mentioned earlier, there are over a hundred lone firefighters. Are we witnessing the worst or has this number increased and decreased throughout the pandemic?
Speaker 2: (04:18)
Well, there have been ups and downs throughout the pandemic, but this is clearly the worst we’ve seen. And if the past few days or any indication we haven’t completed the increases yet, we’ll get an updated total today. But 113 is higher than the 90 something. It was last week. It is therefore not clear how far it will go before starting, on its downward trend.
Speaker 1: (04:45)
How did the global workforce behave during the pandemic? When we spoke
Speaker 2: (04:49)
Yesterday at the ministry, about the last time they saw blackouts, they brought up the incident of September 25, which involved taking an engine out of service. There were also a few other units. The at were brown during this time. And just for comparison, only 22 firefighters were in segregation or on leave to care for family members with COVID at that time. Now, okay, there were a few other factors that kind of fueled this drop in power. There have been a whole bunch of wildfires in northern California. And so we had a bunch of people there to help with that. There was also a fire academy that got canceled and the department was really relying on, uh, you know, a few dozen people who would make it out and they would’ve been hired, but that’s nothing like what we’ve got. seen before. So we’re really in new territory right now.
Speaker 1: (05:35)
Are there specific areas of, um, San Diego that are more affected by shortages than others?
Speaker 2: (05:41)
The short answer isn’t really now. It’s really important to clarify that just because this failure is in place, doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed to see units taken offline every day. It really depends on what kind of staff is available at the time. Now the department has identified a dozen stations across town that could be affected by brownouts, but the stations they choose are certainly dependent on the resources they have today. But just to tell people a little more about how they chose these stations, only the stations called double houses are the ones that will be affected by this. And basically a double house means they don’t just have an engine crew. They also have a team of trucks. So even if they lose an engine crew, they still have people at the station to respond to emergencies.
Speaker 1: (06:31)
And today, it is the mandate for the vaccination of the personnel. Do we know how many staff in the department are currently vaccinated?
Speaker 2: (06:38)
Yes. So we know it’s, it’s a pretty high total, at least in mid-December. Thus, about 83% of the city’s firefighters have been vaccinated. Um, nearly 120 firefighters weren’t fully vaccinated. And 45 others had not reported their immunization status to the city. Um, there are about 85 people who have requested medical or religious exemptions, and we’re hoping to get some updated numbers on that today. And just to sort of answer the question, probably to come, it’s not clear at this point, how many currently isolated firefighters are vaccinated?
Speaker 1: (07:15)
I spoke with the San Diego Union, reporter Lindsay should wink, Lindsey. Thank you very much for joining us.
Speaker 2: (07:22)
Yeah. Thank you very much for having me.