Responding to an average of nearly one waterfront fire per week, the Port of San Diego’s Harbor Police Department is properly trained to immediately respond and contain emergencies.
The Harbor Police Department is the only law enforcement agency in San Diego County that dually-trains its members as police officers and marine firefighters.
In order to become a Harbor Police officer, 120 hours at the department's in-house Marine Firefighting Academy is required in addition to police academy training.
"All of our Harbor Police officers are cross-trained as marine firefighters, which requires specialized training," said Harbor Police Chief John A. Bolduc, who is the top officer and administrator of the 130-sworn officers in the department. "The firefighting training provides officers with the proper expertise in order to maintain public safety around the tidelands."
Part of the officers' firefighting training is conducted on a fire training vessel, which was renovated from a U.S. Marine Corps landing craft. This training simulates fire emergencies and is an essential part of the firefighting academy.
Fires aboard the training vessel are ignited by a control panel that regulates the propane-fueled fire. Firefighting instructors are able to control the level and intensity of the fire at all times.
The training scenarios are monitored by 10 Harbor Police firefighting instructors who are California State Fire Marshal certified.
"Unlike a lot of the training facilities that fire departments have, everything in the training vessel is smaller to actually replicate what it would be like on a medium-sized pleasure boat," said Officer Chris Scheil, who is a firefighting instructor in the department. "So, we go in there and tighten things down, fill it with smoke and light propane fires on the inside to give it a realistic experience without polluting the bay."
In preparation for fighting fires aboard the training vessel, or for real fire emergencies, Harbor Police officers require specialized protective gear.
Sixty to 70 pounds of firefighting gear is worn to provide Harbor Police officers with maximum protection.
This gear includes approximately 28 pounds of protective clothing that is composed of pants, boots, coat and helmet; a 30-pound air pack; and a 15-pound ax or halligan bar that is carried.
"We call it 'turnout gear'," said Scheil. "It's a multi-layered fabric of different materials that protect you from the extreme temperatures of firefighting."
The officers are trained to change into their fire-fighting gear in two to three minutes. The protective gear allows them to withstand temperatures of 300 to 400 degrees for as long as 10 minutes. The gear can even handle 1,100 degrees of heat for several seconds.
Powerful, well-equipped Firestorm police boats are the most recent addition to the department's public safety arsenal. They enable officers to respond more quickly to emergencies and apply more water or firefighting foam than previous vessels.
"It has all of the same basic equipment that any engine our member city fire departments have," said Scheil. "The beauty is that we take the fire hydrants with us. We pump the water straight from the bay, so we don't ever have to worry about water supply."
Harbor Police officers patrol 22 square miles of water around the clock at the Port's five member cities: San Diego, Imperial Beach, National City, Coronado and Chula Vista.
Harbor Police officers patrol the bay to protect the public from drug trafficking, other criminal offenses and to respond to fires and other emergencies. They are part of the network of local and federal agencies that are on alert for homeland security threats through the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The Harbor Police Department's specialized forces also provide mutual aid to lifeguards in Mission Bay and harbors in neighboring counties.
While all Harbor Police officers are marine firefighters, there are also specialty units within the department. They include the dive team, the bike team, the traffic team, the K-9 team and the investigations unit.
There is never a dull day on the job.
"Coming here every day presents a new opportunity: One day you may work on a car patrol handling arrests and on that same day you may go on a boat and fight a fire," said Corporal Jonathan George. "There are so many things that we do that other police agencies can't do that draw a lot of motivated candidates to come work here."
The Harbor Police Department patrols San Diego Bay, the tidelands of the Port's member cities and provides security at San Diego International Airport.
About the Port:
The Port of San Diego is the fourth largest of the 11 ports in California. It was created by the state legislature in 1962. Since then, it has invested millions of dollars in public improvements in its five member cities – Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach, National City and San Diego.
The port oversees two maritime cargo terminals, two cruise ship terminals, 17 public parks, the Harbor Police Department and the leases of more than 600 tenant and sub tenant businesses around San Diego Bay.
The Port of San Diego is an economic engine, an environmental steward of San Diego Bay and the surrounding tidelands, and a provider of community services and public safety.