San Diego

Julian Cuyamaca Volunteer FD Members Stage Sit-In to Save Department

Members of the Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District say they are staging a sit-in inside headquarters until Wednesday to protest a vote to get rid of the volunteer fire department.

A county spokesman said officials went to the station Monday to disband the department but left after they were met with hostility.

Julian residents voted earlier this month to decide whether the volunteer department would continue to serve the area, or if Cal Fire would take over responsibility. Votes leaned in favor of Cal Fire taking over, but on Friday a judge ruled the vote wasn't legal and should be thrown out.

The JCFPD also filed a lawsuit to continue operating. A hearing on it is set for Wednesday when the sit-in ends. Cal Fire says no matter what's happening, they have enough personnel to respond to emergencies.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors decided in December to hold a special election and asked voters to decide on Measure A.

Some community members told NBC 7 they feel they won’t get the same service as their volunteer fire department, which is dedicated to the area.

They also say their department is better equipped than Cal Fire to handle structure fires, as well as medical calls.

JCFPD board member Bill Everett says the department is actually better trained than Cal Fire.

"Their mission is fighting wildland fires. They're not, fundamentally, an organization that goes to vehicle accidents or medical calls, or even structure fires. That's what we do. We're trained to state standards," Everet said.

Cal Fire Spokesman Chief Jon Heggie disagreed with Evert's assessment of Cal Fire's capabilities when it comes to structure fires and medical calls.

“The county is offering less expensive service with better fire protection. We are trained at or above any state standards to handle all emergency situations. The county has invested millions of dollars in upgrades and equipment that far exceeds what the volunteers have.”

Cal Fire officials say the Cuyamaca Station 51 will remain staffed year round and they say they can bring in staff from other stations.

Cal Fire Chief Tony Mecham said in December the ability of anyone to continue an all-volunteer fire department with minimal funding is questionable.

“The fact that the county is bringing $1.6 million to provide services in Julian is a sign of what it costs to run a modern fire department,” Mecham said.

Residents voted against a measure that called for a $150 per household annual increase in funding for the department.

JCFD board member Bill Everett says with $700,000 in the bank and $6 million in assets, the department is on solid footing and can fund itself without increasing residents’ yearly fee.

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