Residents of Julian are concerned about losing local control of their fire station following a heated Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District meeting Thursday night.
Currently, there are two fire stations in the area - Station 71 and Station 74 - managed through an independent fire district.
While there are several full-time firefighters staffing the stations, most firefighters for the community in San Diego's East County serve as volunteers.
Julian-Cuyamaca was one of a handful of fire districts that decided six years ago not to join other smaller fire districts under the San Diego County Fire Authority.
They, along with Borrego Springs and Valley Center said they could do a better job under local control.
Now, the cash-strapped district is considering joining the county's fire organization.
The county spends $15 million a year on fire services in the back country and Julian could get a piece of that if they decided to join the authority according to county officials.
When dozens of property owners and firefighters packed the Julian Town Hall Thursday night, the discussion grew heated.
Residents questioned why the district would consider outsourcing fire coverage to county or state agencies.
Many voiced concerns that those responding may not be familiar with the roads and residences in the back country.
“Protect our fire people. I don’t trust any two people from the county they send up here to be able to find my house,” one resident said.
One man argued it's the failing ambulance service that needs to be removed, not the fire department.
Another man suggested the issue be put up for public referendum, “They’re putting us in a heck of a bind here,” the property owner said.
Chief George Lucia of Palomar Mountain Fire District stopped by the meeting to learn more about the challenge faced by a community that’s similar in size to his.
“These are neighbors helping neighbors," Lucia said of the Julian-Cuyamaca firefighters. "If they go away, they’ll never come back."
Because Julian is located in a part of the county where so much of the surrounding area is covered by the County Fire Authority, county officials have been suggesting that Julian become a member.
However, Palomar's fire chief warned about giving up that independence.
“If I could turn back time, I would never put pen to paper with the county,” Lucia said. “I have regretted it every day since then.”