HazMat Team Spotlight: San Diego Fire Department

Slideshow Images: San Diego Fire Department HazMat Team Located on the Pacific Coast in the southwest corner of Southern California, San Diego is the sixth-largest city in the U.S. and the second largest in the state.


Located on the Pacific Coast in the southwest corner of Southern California, San Diego is the sixth-largest city in the U.S. and the second largest in the state. The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department provides fire, rescue, hazardous materials, EMS and lifeguard service for a population of approximately 1.3 million people within the 72.7-square-mile city. In addition, hazmat service extends into the entire San Diego County (4,255 square miles). Fire department and lifeguard services are extended to 17 miles of coastline three miles offshore.

Prior to 1889, San Diego was protected by volunteer firefighters and during some periods had no organized fire protection at all. In 1872, Engine Company 1 was organized and fully staffed by volunteers. The apparatus consisted of a horsedrawn wagon and 12 buckets that had to be hand filled with water to fight a fire. The early volunteer department continued to grow and in 1887 boasted two steam engines, a hose wagon, 11 horses and 3,500 feet of hose. A series of tragic fires in the mid-1880s led to the formation of the city's first paid department on Aug. 5, 1889. Equipment consisted of two steam engines, a hose wagon, two hose carts, a hook-and-ladder, and 4,000 feet of hose. Early firefighters were known as "foremen" and "extramen." Each foreman was paid $12.50 per month and an extramen received $10. Engine drivers and hose-carriage drivers were paid $75 per month and engineers were paid $100. Engineers maintained the steamers and rode the rear step of the steamer in order to light the boiler on alarms. Firefighters worked 24 hours a day for 28 days, then had one day off. Family members often lived in the stations with the firefighters.

In 1917, San Diego became the first fire department in California to have all mechanized equipment. Two years later, the department launched the world's first gasoline-driven fireboat, built entirely in the fire department shop by firefighters. Today, the department is led by its 15th fire chief, Tracy Jarman. She was appointed Fire Chief for the City of San Diego on June 26, 2006. Since joining the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department as a firefighter in 1984, she progressed up through the ranks of the department and became the Assistant Fire Chief in May 2003. As the Assistant Fire Chief, Jarman was responsible for logistics areas of the department for all fire, emergency medical and lifeguard services, including personnel, budget, fleet, facilities, fire prevention, dispatch, and information technology services. Prior to being appointed Assistant Chief, she served as Deputy Chief overseeing the 9-1-1 Fire and Emergency Medical Services Dispatch Center for five years.

Fire companies are housed in 45 stations and there also are nine permanent lifeguard stations, with 25 during peak season. San Diego Fire has approximately 1,133 uniformed personnel and 19 civilian employees for a total of 1,252. The department runs 46 engine companies (with an additional 13 in reserve); nine truck companies (with four more in reserve); 14 medic units; a rescue squad; two hazmat units; one Environmental Response Team unit; a foam unit; six airport crash/fire rescue vehicles; one helicopter; three light-and-air units; 11 brush units; two water tenders; a mobile communication unit; 25 lifeguard vehicles; and five all-terrain vehicles. It also is home to California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 8.

EMS and rescue calls make up about 80% of the total alarms. San Diego's EMS system partners San Diego Fire and Rural/Metro, a privately owned ambulance company. Fire calls account for approximately 7.2% and other types of alarms account for the other 12.8%. Every engine and truck company in the city has a paramedic on board. The EMS system averages approximately 184 medical calls per day and 67,000 per year. San Diego Fire provides fire protection and hazmat response to San Diego International Airport by contract.

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