"I am keenly aware that I have been accused by some people in the community of sensationalizing this, as has Chief [William] Lansdowne," said San Diego Fire Chief Javier Mainar during a presentation before the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee on Wednesday, October 13. "I would argue that I am not in any way attempting to do that. I've been asked by the mayor to cut $7.2 million out of the budget. It wasn't a suggestion. It was a direction. I'm certainly not sensationalizing it or talking about any elective matters on the upcoming ballot."
Last week, Mainar came under fire from opponents of the sales-tax reform measure after he announced the cuts to the fire department and lifeguard services budget, which include eliminating staffing for one of the fire department's two helicopters, extinguishing five engines, potentially axing 60 fire fighters from the payroll, removing lifeguards at Mission Bay and North Pacific Beach, and reducing staff at city beaches.
The political firestorm was reignited hours before Mainar appeared before the public safety committee when councilmember Carl DeMaio released a press release asserting that his office discovered $5.4 million in bonuses paid to firefighters with EMT certification.
During the committee meeting, Mainar doused the heat from DeMaio, stating that the district five representative was referring to the "Emergency Medical Technician pay," which according to the fire chief is a separate line item in the department's budget. The pay, said Mainar, is extra pay for firefighters that hold EMT certification, which all are required to hold.
"I took it as a personal affront today," said Mainar, explaining that the additional pay has been part of the budget since the ’80s and is part of the firefighters overall salary.
From her spot on the dais, Councilmember Marti Emerald, chair of the committee, also took offense to her colleague's comments.
"It appears that Mr. DeMaio is playing some political game with public safety," said Emerald, who then directed her comments to staff members from councilmember DeMaio's office. "None of us appreciates that, from your boss or from any of you. Spreading rumors, spreading lies to try and influence your political outcome.... I hope you take that message back to your boss. We will do whatever we can to silence this misinformation, this irresponsible behavior."