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By Miriam Raftery

May 31, 2018 (Julian) – The only on-duty firefighter authorized to drive a firetruck in Julian was placed on leave yesterday after a heated argument with the chief, ECM news partner 10 News reports.

Rick Marinelli, the departing Chief of the Julian-Cuyamaca Volunteer Fire District in process of being taken over by the County Fire Department run by Cal Fire, reportedly ordered Captain Dave Southcott escorted off the property by law enforcement. Firefighters told 10 News that Marinelli placed Southcutt and Battalion Chief Mike Van Bibber on administration leave this week.

But no one else authorized to drive a fire truck was slated to work yesterday or today, leaving the public vulnerable should an emergency occur, firefighters told 10 News.

Southcott, on video, called Marinelli a “weasel” and accused him of undermining the department. Marinelli did not respond to 10 News efforts to reach him for comment.

The clash stems from long-standing opposition by Julian’s volunteer firefighters and a vocal segment of the Julian community opposed to a county takeover of the fire department.  Critics contend non-local firefighters don’t know the roads, that the financial situation is not dire enough to warrant a takeover, and most importantly that they fear potential cuts in staffing or mutual aid could put the safety of residents and tourists in the Julian-Cuyamaca area at risk.

Residents are working on multiple fronts to attempt to block the takeover from being completed, multiple sources have told ECM.  The County however has contended that consolidation of rural departments would improve fire protection and resources for communities.

At least on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, however, that seemed not to be the case. 

On Friday, a new Chief, Jeremi Roesler, will take over the helm from retiring Chief Marinelli, putting a new leader in the hot seat.

Patricia Landis, a resident opposed to the takeover, voiced concern another concern.  "The Julian Fire Plugs constructed a beautiful Donor Tree that sits in the lobby of the new Julian Fire Station. The actual piece of art cost a few thousand dollar," she wrote in an email today to ECM. "But the priceless aspect is the many leaves on the tree that acknowledge donations of $250 or more, and apples recognizing very large donations, from residents, property owners and businesses who support our independent volunteer fire department. We are concerned about this asset because CalFire eliminated all of the memorabilia from the Intermountain Fire Station when the County took over that location." She added that donations also provided furnishings and kitchenware that she is concerned could be disposed of by theinterim CalFire chief.


As for the takeover, Landis says, "The County and CalFire are acting as if this is a done deal, but it is not. LAFCO is the only agency that can dissolve JCFPD. Volunteers have accumulated over 300 petition signatures, twice. The first was to place an Initiative to Raise the Benefit Fee for JCFPD from $50/yr to $200/yr. The second was for a Referendum to force a vote on the Fire Board's decision to dissolve."

Next up, she disclosed, "We are amassing volunteers to collect signatures from 50% of the registered voters in JCFPD for a LAFCO Protest Petition." If  successful, she says, "This will stop all proceedings and insure JCFPD remains independent."

Landis contends that the Initiative would provide sufficient revenue to sustain JCFPD and raise the level of services, a point that Marinelli has in the past disputed.

More changes are in the works. "The November elections will also replace two Board members who voted to dissolve JCFPD; and, the new Board will be dedicated to maintaining our historic volunteer department," Landis predicts, though voters will have the final say on whether to retain their fire board members, or give them the boot.

For more on the controversies, see http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/julian-firefight-new-chief-faces-lawsuits-protests-over-county-hostile-takeover.

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CalFire and Jacob to burn Julian AGAIN

This is an article I am sharing Is San Diego County Fire Authority Burning Up the Peoples’ Money? Robert*, a Julian resident on the other end of the phone line, spoke in urgent tones but with hesitation. He mentioned his concern that any discussion with a reporter could “cause me problems”. We agreed to meet in a café with a little privacy. As I drove the country roads I was struck with how far Julian is from everything else. It was a clear reminder that offering services that require manpower and equipment when roads are long and can be blocked is a huge undertaking. I passed Intermountain Fire Station and noted that it appeared empty. I remember when the lot would be filled with volunteers’ cars but a solitary car was present now. Robert offered that I could have a tour of the fire station. Newly built with a 50.00 per year fire fee, the station boasts more vehicles than the station can hold. On the day that I visited there were 6 firefighters as well as an ambulance staffed with two personnel. He explained that the ambulance is a separate contract that is always staffed. While we stood there, a call came in and the response was impressive; three volunteers positioned throughout the community responded as well as the personnel in the station. Two of the community positioned volunteers arrived at the incident prior to the staff from the station getting there. “This”, Robert explained, “is exactly what is supposed to happen”. Robert explained that the service level “is what the rural areas can afford and it is far better than what the county can offer.” The truth is our county is broke and it isn’t getting better soon. In a recent article, the OC register points out that San Diego gets a “D” grade for financial management and expenditure compared to revenue, ranking a miserable 38th and with a 5,400 deficit per household. Over slices of apple pie we talked about the complex issues that can occur when big unions hit small towns. He explained that so many people don’t understand the issues behind the potential county take-over of the volunteer-based station because small town politics don’t work the same, but the pattern becomes evident too late. He voiced concern that, “people compare it to the county taking over a library or a park but those are not comparable. Everyone reads books the same, and a park without gopher holes is nice, but when it comes to fire and emergency services the issue is completely different.” “One day people are impressed with what appear to be good promises and nice uniforms and they blink and find out that those promises have little to do with reality.” In a sleight-of-hand the citizens find that the volunteers that serve rural stations across the country and save millions are gone, and in their place is a bureaucracy with financial struggles that won’t be fixed by the current funding provided by tax revenue. The current county area covers 1.5 million acres and the cost is staggering, but the service is far less in nearly every area than was present when the volunteer stations were staffed and running. Robert pulled out a map and pointed to the areas covered by SDCFA. He pointed to Ranchita, “there was a station that had it together – now they might be staffed 50 percent of the time.”. Robert explained, “any time there is an incident or a training the ‘shell game’ starts. They have such skeletal staffing that they have to start playing musical stations to try to cover, but the song is an ugly one and there are too many empty chairs.”. He explained that often firefighters are “forced” into overtime shifts to try to cover and there are concerns of “exhaustion and error”. He explained that each station that has been “annihilated” by the county “didn’t need to go that way” and points out that the original idea behind the San Diego County Fire Authority was to bring improved services, but “greed got in the way”. Behind “nice words about working together is a political machine that contracts with very expensive union services through CalFire and they are making up the revenue they have lost in the past few years on the backs of rural communities”. He referred me to a list of firefighters that were “excellent volunteers serving their communities” that now do not. “Union workers see them (volunteer firefighters) as scabs crossing their union lines. They want the overtime, not to conserve the community’s funds in responsible use of trained volunteers.” Many community members have been silenced by intimidation tactics. “When you go up against big politics, you find that things don’t go well for you” said a source from Shelter Valley, a community already commandeered by SDCFA. “We were almost always staffed with enough people to operate all of our rigs. When fire came or another emergency we were able to save lives and property. The county auctioned our vehicles and kept the money and staffs our station how they will. We have no voice and no say.” He expresses regret, “they made it sound good but we won’t ever get back what we had. It is gone.”. He points out that if Julian “falls to the county we in Shelter Valley will get less staffing and less attention and we know it. It is a worry but we can’t do anything now.”. Julian Cuyamaca Fire Protection district is run by a board of five people. Robert offered to let me watch recordings of several meetings. He didn’t want to offer comment on what he believes happened on the board, but he did show that the board voted four times to stay independent, “just keep voting, eventually people will break. Some on the board made it personal or didn’t see that if there were problems, as there are in every organization, it is their responsibility to deal with it in a forthright way and try to fix it. That is their responsibility to the community that entrusted them.”. Julian’s fire chief did not return call requests for comment. Randall Evans *Robert chose not to use his own name for this article for fear of reprisal