By Miriam Raftery
Updated 12 p.m. to include comments from Pat Landis.
December 30, 2017 (Julian/Cuyamaca)—On January1st, the full-time staffed San Diego County Paramedic Fire Engine serving the Julian and Cuyamaca areas will be permanently closed. The action leaves the communities to rely solely on volunteer firefighters and one ambulance for fire and life safety services, which could lead to long delays in medical services if that unit is transportation a patient to a hospital, critics contend.
The paramedic engine had been providing fire and emergency medical response services 24 hours a day, seven days a week under a temporary agreement between the County of San Diego and the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District. The CAL FIRE Firefighters that were assigned to the engine have been reassigned to other facilities within San Diego County.
The action comes after the Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection District voted to reject consolidation with the County Fire Department and remain independent—the last remaining volunteer fire department in the County. Cal Fire firefighters blame the board for the current problems, but a former board member faults the district's fire chief.
A press release from Cal Fire firefighters union local 2881 states:
The closure of this Paramedic Fire Engine is a direct result of the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District Board of Directors vote against expanding the contract with County Fire, which would’ve provided for full time career firefighters and paramedics at no cost increase to residents, ensured a permanent funding source and paid off the construction debt of their new fire station. In addition, it would retain the JCFPD volunteer firefighters to work in collaboration with CAL FIRE Paid Staff.
Rather than partnering with County Fire, the JCFPD Board rejected the proposal and has voted to return to a standalone, all volunteer fire department and is moving forward with a tax measure to increase fire protection fees from approximately $50 to over $200 with little or no service or staffing increases and a budget that does not address the true costs of providing professional fire and life safety services.
The union’s press release also voices concern over longer response times for medical services:
With this decision, we are deeply concerned over the safety of those who live and visit the communities of Julian and Cuyamaca. Without the fulltime staffed Paramedic Fire Engine residents and visitors to Julian will depend on one Paramedic Ambulance to provide service to the area. On average, this ambulance can be unavailable for a minimum of 3 hours when it transports ill or injured patients to Palomar and Pomerado Hospitals. On behalf of the over 450 CAL FIRE San Diego County Firefighters of Local #2881, it has been a pleasure to serve the communities of Julian and Cuyamaca.
East County Magazine contacted Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Chief Rick Marinelli, who confirmed that the pull-out leaves the community with a shortfall on coverage. He sent this statement:
This should not be a surprise. It is exactly what they said was going to happen. It is not cal fires decision. They only contract with the county fire authority to provide the service and the service was only for two years which expires on the 31st. The fire authority gave Julian a choice and the board of directors made it. This is what the group up here fought so diligently for.
I have no resources to provide coverage to make up for the loss of a paramedic engine. County EMS (emergency medical services) contracts out ambulance service and we hold the Julian contract but I do not have funds to staff another ambulance. So the result is the jcfpd will staff with volunteer firefighters. I am working very hard to ensure personnel are staffing station 56 24/7 but it's never a guarantee that there won't be a lapse in coverage during multiple incidents or staffing shortages.
Those opposed to the district returning to stand-alone status had voiced concerns over the county cutting off funds and losing the professional Cal Fire staffing.
Those favoring ending the agreement with Cal Fire had voiced concerns over loss of local control and that in a major wildfire elsewhere, protecting Julian might not be the top priority. Local volunteers are also most familiar with local roads and conditions, supporters argue.
Pat Landis, a former JCFPD board member, voiced concern that Cal Fire's reliance on GPS, which is often inaccurate in Julian, has resulted in delays of its own in reaching some patients. Landis also criticized Chief Marinelli for not helping the department fulfill the board's goal of independence, in her view. She says,
San Pasqual Volunteer Fire Dept just donated $40,000 to our Julian-Cuyamaca Volunteers Fire Company to buy a water tender. Chief Marinelli refused to accept the donation to JCFPD saying it would just be another piece of equipment that needs insurance and maintenance. But a month ago this was a big issue with him and Jack Shelver (chairman of the board) that we were going to lose the water tender that San Diego placed at our station. Now Marinelli says it is not really needed."
As for the ambulance shortfall, Landis states:
"We have two ambulances but Chief Marinelli refuses to put the second one into service. It is a better vehicle than the one we recently replaced with a newly build ambulance. In the past, the second ambulance made a profit."
She voiced frustration with Marinelli for not coming up with a plan for the future, noting that the volunteer firefighters' board recently issued a vote of no confidence in the chief, and cited additional examples of concerns.
"A year ago Mercy Air approached Marinelli asking about leasing our station in Lake Cuyamaca. Marinelli told them he was not interested."
Marinelli has indicated the location was not acceptable. Landis says a Mercy officer indicated no reason was provided. In addition, she contends,
"The Santa Ysabel Fire Department contacted Marinelli and offered `automatic aid.' This was another hot issue, something we are losing with CalFire, until Santa Ysabel made the offer. Now it is not important."
She also faults Marinelli for "dismissing Chief Marks from Santa Ysabel rather than having a fruitful discussion. Captain Hamilton from Santa Ysabel attended the last Board meeting and Marinelli disregarded everything he said. Every Chief around Julian has stressed to the JCFPD Board that they should remain independent."