Unmasking Cal Fire

Article by Dr. Pat Landis

ILLUMINATING THE SAN DIEGO COUNTY/CAL FIRE PLAN FOR JCFPD

I am a retired psychologist and not a journalist or investigative reporter. As a psychologist, my job was to listen. Maybe that is why so many individuals come and tell me “what’s going on.” I have become a repository of information about our fire department and I believe I need to share what I am hearing because it affects the lives of all of us living in the Julian-Cuyamaca fire district.

At first, I thought the proposal for the Fire Authority to take over JCFPD was being driven by Dianne Jacob, since she was the visionary for the formation of the Fire Authority and consolidation of back-country volunteer fire departments.  I have fought this proposal because I do not believe this small rural town could be managed better and more effectively from a bureaucratic organization that is 50 miles away (San Diego County Fire Authority), or by people who do not live in this community and value its history and culture.

But, after reading reports of how Cal Fire operated in the San Miguel Fire Protection District, and experiencing the flood of information into Julian from Patrick Walker, an officer of Cal Fire Local2881, I think I may have been wrong. I am now concerned that the plan is for JCFPD to be managed by Cal Fire from Sacramento, 520 miles away. That is where Cal Fire and Local 2881 are headquartered.

Patrick Walker became a divisive actor on the Julian Facebook sites, to the point that locals saw nothing but his posts and arguments with local Facebook members. He appeared at a Fire Board meeting, placed a full-page ad in the Julian Journal, set up a fake Facebook page for “Julian-Cuyamaca Area Citizens in Support of CAL FIRE San Diego”, and mailed a postcard advertisement to every resident stating “Fire protection and safety services in the Julian-Cuyamaca area is at risk. Do you want to lose your paramedic engine?” I kept asking him, via Facebook, why he was so interested in Julian since he neither lives nor works here. It was perplexing.

Then I read how active he was when San Miguel Fire decided to cancel their contract with Cal Fire. His argument there was that 70 firefighters would lose their jobs. This did not turn out to be true because many of the firefighters who were previously San Miguel Fire employees were hired back and other Cal Fire staff were redeployed. But that argument was revealing as to the possible reason Walker has been so vigorous in promoting the County/Cal Fire proposal, to-wit:  revenue for Cal Fire from San Diego County, and the creation and protection of union jobs.

Julian seems like a small dot on the map, not a big deal for Cal Fire. But when you combine Descanso, Shelter Valley, Intermountain, Shadow Ridge, Palomar Mountain and Mount Laguna, a larger picture is observed. Also, Julian is a strategic location that provides roads in the direction of all these other fire stations. So, bringing Julian-Cuyamaca into the fold would be a boon to Cal Fire’s goal to ease the sharing and deploying of resources to these various areas. For this reason, people might think it reasonable to assume Cal Fire will staff our station adequately and put us at the top of the hierarchy for protection. This is not necessarily how it would work.

Cal Fire employees are moved around a lot, especially if they want promotions. That means no guarantee that permanent staff, familiar with the community, would be stationed in Julian. It also means that Cal Fire can deploy all of Julian’s resources to an ongoing wildfire (even the paramedic staffed engine), leaving Julian unprotected for structure fires and emergency medical services. This is what happened during the Cedar Fire. Our volunteers were assisting down the hill when our Fire Chief realized the fire was turning and heading back toward Julian. He did not need permission to return to Julian to protect as many homes as possible. Under Cal Fire’s authority, resources will be concentrated in the most populous areas or most active fire zone. JCFPD will always have this community as its first priority.

We live in a high-risk wildfire part of the county. We are very thankful for any and all firefighters that have helped during large fires in our district, especially Cal Fire. We have been very careful not to offend or step on the toes of those men and women to whom we are so grateful. As a result we may have failed to see the forest for the trees; to see the big picture from the viewpoint of Sacramento.

On September 12, 2017, the JCFPD Board of Directors voted to remain independent and declined the County/Cal Fire offer. What we ask now is that San Diego County Fire Authority and Cal Fire let us plan our future without interference or disruption.

 

 

Julian-Cuyamaca Fire- To Be or Not to Be

By: Pat Landis

Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District is at risk. Choices appear to be (1) Do nothing and persevere until finances force it to dissolve; (2) Voluntarily dissolve and allow the Fire Authority to take over; (3) Increase the Benefit Fee to cover the rising costs and remain viable as an independent/volunteer fire department.

A few years ago, the JCFPD Board of Directors announced that the District was almost broke, could not sustain itself, and recommended that it dissolve and allow the San Diego County Fire Authority take over responsibility for fire protection in Julian. Due to the outcry against dissolution and the demonstration of support by residents, JCFPD Fire Board voted to remain independent.

In 2013, Rebecca Luers, CPA, was recruited by JCFPD  to review the annual audit and clarify some discrepancies in the bookkeeping and accounting processes. She determined there was no corruption or misuse of funds, but it was unclear what JCFPD had in reserves.  Instead of being bankrupt, JCFPD had over a hundred thousand dollars in reserves. While this may sound like a lot, it is insufficient in the long term to replace capital assets (e.g. vehicles).

Chief Rick Marinelli was hired in 2013 and immediately attacked the problem of an ambulance service that was losing money.  He negotiated new contracts with the County for the Julian Ambulance Service with a larger subsidy, and then convinced San Diego Emergency Medical Services to purchase a new ambulance.  His next challenge was to build a new station and that was completed and showcased at an Open House on April 22, 2017. Meanwhile, though JCFPD operates on a tight budget, cash reserves have grown.  But the problem of finances is not solved.

Every fire department in San Diego County (except Julian) either has paid firefighters, or provides a stipend to volunteers and reserves. Julian has a hard time recruiting volunteers who often drive 50 miles, staff the station for 48 hours, and pay their own expenses, including food. The County is implementing a new radio system for emergency responders and Julian’s share of the cost will be significant. Gas, vehicle maintenance, new technologies and basic operating expenses increase over time but Julian’s benefit fee and tax revenue have remained the same for 30 years.

In September 2017, the Fire Board will vote again to remain independent or succumb to the Fire Authority.  The County provides a $60,000 subsidy which it may not pay if JCFPD rejects the offer to submit to the Fire Authority. CalFire could also go to a 9-month staffing in Julian and withdraw the Paramedic Engine it has provided for the past year.  This is the leverage the County has to coerce acceptance. The Fire Authority will offer paid staffing 24/7 and potentially lower insurance rates for homeowners. While it sounds like it could be an easy transition with lots of benefits, many of the communities that are now covered by the Fire Authority are very, very unhappy. They have lots of complaints about “promises made but not kept.”

Julian-Cuyamaca is a very special place and JCFPD is an icon in this community.  Julian is one of the few communities holding on to its volunteer fire department. We do not want to go through disruption, potentially lose the station we worked and paid for, and lose control of the community icon we so love. So, we need to decide if we want an independent/volunteer department and, if so, we will have to act.


 

What you can do now:  Write a letter to San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Attention: Dianne Jacob, 1600 Pacific Highway, Room 335, San Diego, CA 92121. Tell her that you support JCFPD and do not want the Fire Authority to take control of our volunteer fire department. Ask that the County continue to provide the $60,000 subsidy they have provided for over a decade, and point out that this sum is far, far less than it would cost the County to provide fire protection for Julian.

How much are you willing to pay?   Property owners currently pay $50 per year for fire protection and $50 per year for building/operation of the new fire station. An increase from $50 to $100 per year for fire protection would be sufficient to subsidize the volunteers and provide funds for unanticipated costs. Anything less would not have sufficient impact, more could provide paid firefighters and make Julian comparable to other departments in San Diego.

Summary:  The communities of Julian and Lake Cuyamaca need to demonstrate to San Diego County that we value our fire department and expect their support. This is urgent and can be done with letters, emails and phone calls. In the near future, there needs to be a serious discussion and input from the community regarding an increase in the annual tax to preserve JCFPD, or choose to dissolve.

NEW STATION, DONOR TREE AND REGISTRY

donor-tree-flyer-imageWe are asking for the community to support our efforts to make our new fire station even better by providing our volunteers and reserves with the equipment, amenities and tools they need to make the station as comfortable and well appointed as they deserve. These item will make staying away from family and  home just a bit more comfortable and will show that all the efforts and training they put in for our community are appreciated.

Thank you in advance for everything you do to support our fire department.

Donor Tree Flyer

 

Welcome to The Julian Fire Plugs website!

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Welcome to The Julian Fire Plugs is a non-profit organization of community volunteers working in support of the Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District (JCFPD). Historically, Fire Plugs were a group of volunteers who raised funds for the first Julian Fire and Rescue organization. In the spirit of that commitment, the mission of the new Julian Fire Plugs is to continue supporting our local volunteer fire district and to strengthen ties in the community.

Anyone can volunteer at Fire Plugs’ events without any training, just a desire to help. We will organize activities such as barbeques and bake sales, firehouse demonstrations, raffles and other fundraising events throughout the year. All profits go directly to the JCFPD.  If you would like to be on the Fire Plug’s email list to be notified of upcoming events, please contact us at [email protected].