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Fire departments short staffed

 November 12, 2021 at 8:15 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Friday, October 12th

What’s behind the looming shortage of firefighters. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….######

On monday poway unified school board members voted unanimously to hold their next meeting online because of security concerns.

Superintendent Dr. Marian Phelps says board members and their families are receiving death threats. She also described how protesters have terrorized school officials on district property and at their homes.

Student school board member Winnie Xu was at a meeting in October that was stormed by protesters and ended in arrests. She’s also received threats.

I have been receiving numerous threats through my board email regarding mask mandates, vaccine mandates, regarding just the way the district has been dealing with the coronavirus during this school year so it’s definitely been harrowing as a senior in high school experiencing these things, especially serving in such a public role.

Xu says school officials are merely following the state’s public safety guidelines.


As of Tuesday, more than 7000 children ages 5 to 11 have gotten their first dose of covid-19 vaccine, according to the county’s latest data.. They’ll now be included in the county’s overall vaccination count going forward. 81% of San Diego residents 5 and older have received at least one dose of covid-19 vaccine.


San Diego and Tijuana have won the designation of World Design Capital 2024 -- the first time the World Design Organization has awarded the designation to a binational region. The World Design Organization said it chose the two cities for their commitment to human-centered design and their legacy of cross-border collaboration. The designation is meant to highlight the cross-border region's approach to design as a vehicle for solving societal problems.


From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

The San Diego fire-rescue department has been struggling with staffing shortages … but it’s not only because of covid or vaccine mandates.

KPBS’s Kitty Alvarado tells us the issue is more complicated than that and it’s a problem almost every department is facing across california.

it’s a beautiful day in san diego … and the fire crew at station one is starting their day. while everything looks normal …

chief colin stowell

san diego fire and rescue department

we’ve got an exhausted workforce

back at san diego fire and rescue headquarters chief colin stowell says it’s been a struggle to keep the department’s 50 stations fully staffed.

yes we’re seeing less and less people sign up and voluntarily want to take overtime shifts and so sometimes those sit empty

he says the staffing shortage has already resulted in a brown out of a station this year … on that day, 95 people called out. that’s one third of the day’s workforce

it’s the absolute last resort for us is to have to shut down a first responder unit … and it really came down to we just did not have enough bodies

stowell says covid isn’t the only reason this is happening.

we’re also seeing a combination of of retirements and some folks leaving the departments or a change of career

but covid sure hasn’t helped and the city’s vaccine mandate deadline is looming … about 12 percent of his department is unvaccinated …

definitely a concern of mine, and it could be very impactful …

but he’s also seeing a sharp decrease in applicants … they used to get about 4000 a year, now they get about 1300.

brian k. rice

president, california professional firefighters

it’s not a shortage of candidates, at cpf we maintain an eligibility hiring list that has over 3,000 candidates

brian rice is the president of the california professional firefighters or state’ s firefighters union. he says this crisis has been years in the making

is covid to blame? no. is the wildfire season to blame? no. do they play a role in it, yes. but to me the blame falls squarely on cities, counties and municipalities as employers for failing to hire the adequate number of firefighters.

He says it started during the recession, when overtime became the norm instead of hiring.

This is a choice that municipalities have made and they’re betting that the disaster is not going to come to their community and so far i think it’s proven wrong

Rice says departments have to stop relying on overtime, because it takes its toll.

the health of firefighters men and women really a good part of that depends on them being able to go home and decompress and rebuild their strength

rice also says the state’s fire department - calfire - must do better so they don’t burn out their staff or have to rely so heavily on city departments during disasters

they use seasonal employees, part time employees, for years they have relied on the prison system to try to augment that staffing and i think it’s shameful...and the state of california should be blamed in no uncertain terms for trying to get away on the cheap

brian marshall is the state’s office of emergency services fire chief. there they coordinate resources from all over the state during major wildfires and disasters. he says he’s seen a difference in the requests they’ve made for fire resources in the last few years

we’re seeing approximately 50 percent of what we’ve seen in prior years

forcing those on frontlines of mega fires to work longer shifts

these firefighters are literally gone all summer long

and with covid and year long fire seasons pushing departments to the breaking point the question is will we have enough manpower if the big one hits during a mega fire?

so it is a fear i think by all emergency managers ... that there will be simultaneous disasters across the state and are we going to have enough resources when somebody calls 911 for help?

stowell says there’s no doubt there’s a staffing crisis plaguing departments across the state, including his. but he's optimistic with their proactive recruitment they will meet their staffing goals by 2023.

and despite the challenges, stowell hopes more young people consider a career in the fire service because there is a lot of opportunity and the work is fulfilling.

you leave the next day when you’re heading home and you know you made a difference in somebody’s life … and you don’t get that kind of satisfaction from a lot of careers


It was a veterans day for the books for a father and son who were reunited in San Ysidro after being separated for nearly two decades.

KPBS reporter Alexandra Rangel has more from a deported veterans advocate who was finally able to return to the U.S. after winning a legal battle in the Supreme Court of California.

“Thank you lord jesus, hey dad, welcome back to the united states, welcome back home.”

A long embrace with his son standing on American soil.

It’s the one gift Robert Vivar wanted to give his veteran son on Veterans Day.

Robert Vivar, Deported Veterans Advocate

“Incredible journey, a lot of struggles, but a lot of guidance from god.”

After winning a legal battle that lasted nearly two decades, Vivar was able to restore his lawful status in California and come back home.

His son Bobby Vivar says there were times he doubted this day would come, but his dad never lost faith.

Bobby Vivar, Airforce Veteran

“I feel I got a ton of emotions right now. I can't wait to see him and for my daughters to see him and be with them because he missed a lot.”

From Birthdays to holiday’s, Vivar missed years with his family after pleading guilty to a shoplifting charge in 2002.

Little did he know that plea would get him deported to Mexico.

But a new state law allowed him to come back.

Dane Shikman, Munger Tolles

“The California Supreme court finally issued a decision that set precedent and allowed him to vacate his conviction which was the reason he was deported.”

Vivar’s lawyer Dane Shikman says there are so many deportees with similar stories.

Dane Shikman, Munger Tolles

“So many people have unjustly exiled from their families so many people that are as American as the people standing here.”

Robert Vivar is not a veteran, but was raised in a military family.

While living in Tijuana he became a voice for deported vets.

Robert Vivar, Deported Veterans Advocate

That’s why i got so involved with deported veterans because even though they were not my blood they are our family as well.”

Vivar serves as co-director for Unified U.S. Deported Veterans and says he will not stop fighting to help vets who were deported.

Robert Vivar, Deported Veterans Advocate

“Just like our logo on our shirt,leave no one behind. We don't leave no one behind. We’re gonna go back for them.”


California is on the verge of having a license plate dedicated specifically to women veterans. kpbs military reporter steve walsh says it would be more than just symbolic.

The Foundation for Women Warriors hopes to pass another milestone. At the moment California does not have a license plate honoring female veterans says CEO Jodie Grenier.

“There have been numerous instances where a woman parks in a veterans spot and she is often confronted saying that’s spot’s for a veteran, when she is the veteran, when in fact, she is the veteran. So this is just another way for society to get on board and realize women are serving increasing numbers.”

It can be isolating, contributing to issues like veteran suicide. It can make it harder for women to demand changes in veterans healthcare. At least 50 people need to sign up for the plate, before it can be offered by the state. The Foundation for Women Warriors is asking people to sign up at their website.


Coming up.... Keeping arts education going for school children during the pandemic was no easy task for one non-profit...

“We lost about 50% of our income, pretty quickly.”

More on that next, just after the break.

The pandemic has brought change to so many lives. Sometimes the change has led to rebirth.

KPBS reporter John Carroll tells us about a local non-profit that figured out how to survive during the pandemic - to continue bringing the arts to school children across San Diego County.

“When you don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring, you need something to bring you back and ground you and that’s what we get from the arts.”

That was Adrienne Valencia last year in a story we did in the early days of the pandemic. Then and now, Valencia led an organization dedicated to bringing the arts to school children. What she didn’t know at the time was the extraordinary challenge COVID would present. Like so many others, the group went virtual.

CG: Adrienne Valencia/Arts Education Connection SD

“Our teaching artists were absolutely brilliant and made those changes very quickly.”

But more changes would have to be made. COVID meant a significant loss of funding.

“Schools were finding that they had to put their funding in different places and so we lost about 50% of our income, pretty quickly.”

Valencia and her staff knew that for the organization to survive, some difficult decisions were ahead.

“We let go of our office space and we’ve been working remotely since the end of October 2020. We took a few elements of our business practice and put them in house such as our grant writing and our accounting.”

But all that wasn’t enough. One more big change - a painful one - was still to come. The group had been affiliated with Young Audiences of America since the late 60’s. The national group has branches all over the country dedicated to bringing the arts to school children. Valencia and her board decided retaining membership with Young Audiences just wasn’t worth it.

“We just found that it made more sense for us to separate from them.”

Separating from Young Audiences meant change from top to bottom. The group rebranded itself… they’re now known as Arts Education Connection San Diego. A new name, a new logo but the mission hasn’t changed. A dedicated group of teaching artists still share the arts with children through 5 disciplines - music, theater, dance, visual and literary arts. Sharing, teaching the arts to children during the darkest days of the pandemic revealed a silver lining… the separation from our friends and family was eased a bit by the kind of togetherness that only the arts can bring.

“That really relates to our new name because the arts really do connect us to one another, connects us to history, connects us to science, connects us in so many different ways.

As COVID recedes and arts education returns to libraries and classrooms, Adrienne Valencia says she’s more confident than ever about the future.

“The whole rebranding thing was a very intense process, it has actually re-energized us and re-energized our name in the community.”

We interviewed Valencia in the Malcolm X Library, one of many locations where Arts Education Connection San Diego has conducted their programs. The process of returning to places like this is now underway.

“Many schools are very excited about having in person programming again and so that is getting off the ground. Some venues are still requesting virtual programs and so we will continue to do that.”

Continuing to do that takes financial support. If you’d like to help out, or if you’re just curious about Arts Education Connection San Diego, you can check out their newly redesigned website… arts ed sd dot org. The first thing you’ll see is their mission statement: Arts are essential, learning is critical and art in learning is transformative. JC, KPBS News.


Media Arts Center San Diego is hosting the first ever Age-Friendly Film Film Festival tomorrow. If you are curious about what that is exactly... KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando has more.

Media Arts Center San Diego sponsored a four-month Emerging Filmmaker Fellowship to encourage young filmmakers to produce short films highlighting local efforts to build age-friendly communities where people of all ages, especially the elderly, can be healthy and thrive. Now it is hosting the first-ever Age-Friendly Film Festival.

The San Diego Foundation is one of the event partners. Its director of community impact Katie Rast says these stories are important because by 2030, there will be more than one million people living in San Diego over the age of 65,

I think one of the interesting elements about the film festival is that it really is intergenerational. And certainly in the work that we do within the community with our partners, we recognize that an intergenerational approach is extremely important.

The festival hopes to raise awareness of age-friendly programs and the importance of age-friendly communities. Filmmakers were encouraged to focus on low-income and underserved older adults. The short documentaries will be screened on Nov. 13 at Reading Cinemas Town Square. It is free to the public.

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

Fire departments around the state are struggling with staffing shortages. COVID-19 is one reason, but San Diego's Fire Chief says there are a lot of other complicating factors hurting the firefighting workforce. Meanwhile, a father and son were reunited in San Ysidro on Veteran’s Day after being separated for nearly two decades. Plus, when COVID-19 hit, funding plummeted for Arts For Learning San Diego.