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Why is the SF Fire Department Facing Budget Cuts Amid a Megafire Era?

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Guest post by Kayla Brittingham

As citizens were applauding our first responders and those on the frontlines of the historic Northern California blazes, the San Francisco Fire Department has been fighting battles of their own over city wide budget cuts.

Adrienne Sims, Director of San Francisco Firefighters Union 798, wants to call attention to the equipment and training cuts that could be detrimental to the department for years to come. If not for the pandemic budget cuts, the department was slated to replace 4 of its 20 year old fire trucks and engines that have outlasted their use.

Members of the Board of Supervisors, Sandra Fewer and Rafael Mandelman questioned the SFFD replacement of these vehicles. In response Sim’s tweeted images of the older fire trucks and fire engines that were being held together by tape, one with haphazard blocks placed under the chair to hold it in place.

“Our Fire Department spends approximately $500K a month keeping these older rigs on the road,” Sims tells me over the phone. It costs half a million to replace a fire engine and a million to replace a fire truck, which have to be specially designed to drive on San Francisco hills, and takes about 2 years to purchase and build.

For those unsure of the difference, a fire engine is the vehicle that’s usually first on the scene and is equipped with a pump, water tank, hoses, and water and flame retardants. A fire truck is the vehicle that transports firefighters and equipment like ladders, rescue gear, and power tools to the fire.

The equipment is not only used for fires but emergency responses and surf rescues. Without putting these orders in in advance, the San Francisco Fire Department could be short life saving equipment in the upcoming years. Sim’s noted that if a rig goes out of service that puts pressure on the surrounding districts’ Fire Departments to respond within efficient times.

The BOS postponed the Department budget call to Wednesday 8/26, but Sim’s says budget cuts like these are made when local Supervisors are unaware of a Department’s function. They hold training drills every year for our Supervisors, which unfortunately, not all can make it. “We are willing to be participants in helping the city,” Sim’s said referring to raise deferrals and other cuts, “but this is a safety issue.”

Mayor London Breed, tweeted in recognition of the mutual aid San Francisco is providing in response to the Bay Area Fires. But the question remains, if we’re facing a future with Global Warming and increasing Wild Fire seasons, doesn’t it make sense that we should be prepared? Hopefully the Board of Supervisors and public think so too.

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