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San Diego Lifeguards Vote To Leave Fire-Rescue Department

Author: Jeff Powers
Created: 06 December, 2017
Updated: 21 November, 2022
3 min read

In a dramatic show of just how fractured the relationship is between the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and the San Diego Lifeguard Association, 76 of 102 permanent lifeguards voted to form their own department called the “Marine Safety Department," and leave the Fire-Rescue Department.

Turnout was 92% with roughly 77% voting for the new department.

The vote, taken at Marina Village, authorizes the Lifeguard Union to publicly express concerns with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and demand a separation.

San Diego Lifeguards Vote To Form New Department

A news release sent out by the Lifeguard Association notes the following: “The Lifeguards are calling on Mayor Kevin Falconer, and each San Diego City Councilmember, to consider and support the creation of this Department and the naming of an independent Lifeguard Chief. In doing so, the Lifeguards assert that the City of San Diego will save hundreds of thousands if not millions in annual operating budget expenses, and more importantly, increase public safety along San Diego’s coastlines, cliffs, and waterways.”

Dana Nelson, a 29-year old career City of San Diego Lifeguard and Union Leader said, “I am proud we are moving in this direction. Being absorbed into the bureaucracy of the Fire Department has been terrible for morale among front-line Lifeguards who tend to be in their thirties like me. What we see is that Lifeguarding as a profession is simply set to disappear in San Diego.”

According to Lifeguard officials, the new chief would report to the city’s Chief Operating Officer, as the Fire and Police Chiefs currently do.

The Lifeguards are scheduled to meet with the Mayor and City Councilmembers to express concerns regarding public safety. They will also seek support from the beach area town council’s and small business community.


The vote comes as a series of email communications between the departments have been released regarding the City of San Diego’s Citygate report. That report detailed the strategy for the Fire-Rescue Department to take over the water rescue duties from the lifeguards as well as rerouting 911 emergency calls.

Those decisions have been criticized in the media and have raised eyebrows for those in the public safety space.

Officials with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department has not yet responded to the vote taken. IVN has sent a request to the department for comment.


The Mayor of Imperial Beach, Serge Dedina, a former lifeguard himself, understood the challenge of fully integrating the Fire-Rescue and Lifeguard departments, so Dedina acted swiftly to remove any “unnecessary inefficiencies.”

Dedina told IVN, “Lifeguarding is a completely separate area of public safety... what’s best suited for lifeguarding isn’t always best suited for the fire department. Having the lifeguards as a separate agency has been a very smooth transition.”

There is no question the issue of public safety in the City of San Diego has become a political football.

When the San Diego Fire-Rescue department chose not to send the Lifeguard Swift Water Rescue team to Houston during the Hurricane flooding, it set off a cavalcade of mud slinging between the two groups and entangled the leaders of each unit. IVN covered that story as it came to light.

Dedina says whenever politics and public safety tangle, you’ve got problems. Dedina said, “We took politics completely out of the equation and focused on public safety. For us it was a no brainer and has worked out really well. I never understood why you would have the fire department run the lifeguard dept.”