The Town of Julian is a California Historic Landmark (old gold mining town) and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. Lake Cuyamaca is popular for fishing, camping, hiking and horse riding trails. JCFPD is responsible for fire protection and emergency medical services for the residents in this geographic area, as well as the influx of tourists and motorcyclists.
JCFPD supports two stations: Station 56 in Julian and Station 57 in Lake Cuyamaca. The district encompasses 87 square miles and protects over 4,000 residents and 2,500 homes, outbuildings and commercial structures. The terrain is mountainous and the streets are often irregular, presenting challenges such as being steep, or unpaved, or having only a single outlet, or having no easy turn around. GPS instructions are often incorrect, reflecting that streets connect when they do not, or that streets exist where they do not. Volunteer firefighters who are local residents know the geography, the fastest route to a home, who resides in the home, what to expect in terms of availability of water, and other factors that are unavailable and/or unknown to firefighters from outside agencies who do not reside in or near Julian and are not familiar with our community.
The Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District is an all-volunteer fire department, except for a part-time Chief and Secretary. JCFPD has a total of 52 firefighters: 12 experienced Volunteers who serve as Officers and over 50 Reserves. The Reserves are trained firefighters here to gain practical experience, all are Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTS) and some are Paramedic trained as well. They utilize the training and experience they acquire while working for JCFPD until they can secure paid firefighter positions. All of the Reserves are working toward Firefighter I level.
History: San Diego back county volunteer fire companies were organized after the huge 1970 Laguna Fire. The fire was caused by downed power lines during Santa Ana winds in the Kitchen Creek area of the Laguna Mountains. In only 24 hours it burned westward about 30 miles to the outskirts of El Cajon and Spring Valley. The fire devastated the communities of Harbison Canyon and Crest. In the end the fire burned 175,425 acres and 382 homes, killing eight people.
Twenty-three (23) volunteer fire companies were established after the Laguna Fire, with the financial support of San Diego County. Julian established Julian Volunteer Fire and Rescue with Chief Larry Tuttle as head of the department. Lake Cuyamaca established the Lake Cuyamaca Volunteer Fire Company with Chief Al Sprague as head. By 1974, the County decided to withdraw all support for the volunteer fire agencies it had helped establish, and each was left to its own devices. Julian and Lake Cuyamaca did well and survived.
In 1981, Larry Hutchinson became Chief of Julian Fire and Rescue and he collaborated with Chief Al Sprague to create the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District. Both departments believed that, as a Special Fire District with the ability to establish a benefit fee (tax), they would have a steady source of revenue and could provide their community with better service. After years of investigation, training and hard work, JCFPD was officially formed by LAFCO in 1984. JCFPD immediately placed a Proposition on the ballot to establish an annual Benefit Fee of $50 per household. In November 1984, 72% of the voters in the District approved the new benefit fee. Additionally, under the leadership of Chief Hutchinson, the District leased land from the local water district and proceeded, with donations and volunteer labor, to build a fire station in Julian. The same thing happened in Lake Cuyamaca under the leadership of Chief Al Sprague. With adequate income, a large group of volunteer firefighters, and two stations, JCFPD did very well.
Kevin Dubler became District Chief in 1999 and served until his retirement in 2012. Under his leadership, in November 2006, a Proposition to create a second annual Benefit Fee of $50 was placed on the ballot for the sole purpose of accumulating funds to build a new fire Station. Nearly 74% of the voters in this general election approved the benefit fee. The new station was constructed and placed into service in May 2017 on land bequeathed in 2009 by Frances Mosler, a local resident.
The Mosler Estate deeded 6.4 acres to Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District. The Deed states:
“PROVIDED; HOWEVER, that District shall construct a fire station on the subject property for a fire station and incidental uses.” And, “If District permanently abandons the fire station, title to the subject property shall automatically vest in the Conservancy or the Conservancy’s assignee of this right of reverter.”
JCFPD has no authority to convey this land to another entity. The intent of the Mosler Estate was to retain this land for use by the community of Julian. The above stated provision has been interpreted to mean that if JCFPD is ever dissolved the property shall automatically revert back to the Native American Land Conservancy.
Controversy: In 2013, the Board of Directors of JCFPD announced to the public that, due to poor financial standing, JCFPD was considering an offer from the County of San Diego to take over the District. The public outcry against consolidation with the County was loud; nevertheless, the Board proceeded to vote on whether to dissolve. The vote was 2:2; and therefore, did not pass and JCFPD remained independent.
In the interim period between 2013 and 2017, JCFPD strengthened its ambulance service, purchased a new Rapid Attack fire engine, purchased a new ambulance and built its new station. Also during this time, the cash reserves of JCFPD increased from approximately $100,000 to $350,000. After building the new fire station, due to the improved accommodations available to the volunteers, JCFPD was able to recruit a large number of Reserves. The overall state of JCFPD improved and staffing became stable. Nonetheless, the County of San Diego remained determined to incorporate JCFPD into its Fire Authority.
In 2017, the Board of Directors announced that the County had made another offer to dissolve the District and assume fire protection and emergency medical responsibility for the community. This time, the public outcry was deafening. From July 2017 until April 2018, upwards of 150 residents attended Fire Board meetings and proclaimed their support for JCFPD and desire for the District to remain Independent. The composition of residents in favor of independence at these meetings, versus residents in favor of County services, was approximately 10:1 in favor of independence. The assertion by the Board was that JCFPD could not be maintained without County support. It became clear a new source of revenue was necessary.
During this time of turmoil a Citizen’s Initiative was prepared to Repeal and Replace the existing annual $50 benefit fee with a $200 benefit fee. In addition to the County revoking its nominal subsidy and free dispatch services, the current cost of vehicles, fuel, equipment, radios, computers, payroll and medical supplies had increased. Thus, an increase in revenue was deemed necessary to sustain operations, remain current with standards established by the National Fire Protection Association and to raise the level of fire and medical services desired by this community. It was also determined that the best interest of JCFPD and the community would be served by hiring a full-time Chief and Paramedics to staff an engine, and these provisions were included in the Citizen’s Initiative that will be voted on in the November 2018 general election.
After two comprehensive presentations by the County and many public speeches in favor of independence, the JCFPD Board voted in 4:1, in September 2017, to remain independent. However, due to pressure from the County and CAL FIRE, the Board continued discussions regarding the County proposal. The County applied pressure on JCFPD in the form of revocation of a $60,000 subsidy, charging for dispatch services, removal of a County owned water tender from the JCFPD station, and removal of a Paramedic-staffed engine from the CAL FIRE station in Julian. This was compounded by a CAL FIRE Union 2881 campaign in favor of the County, publishing advertisements in local papers, mailing advertisements declaring “Julian is at risk” unless they accept the County offer, and blasting local Facebook sites with their hype. Finally, in April of 2018, the Board voted 3:1 (1 absentee) to pass a Resolution to enter into negotiations with LAFCO to dissolve JCFPD.
The community voiced strong objection to the vote of these three Board members and repeatedly asked for the right to vote on the issue. After the Board refused, a Referendum was prepared and signed by over 300 registered voters demanding: (1) rescind the Resolution to dissolve, or (2) place the Resolution on the ballot for the community to decide. Rather than accede to the wishes of its constituents, the same three Board members proceeded to sign an agreement with CAL FIRE for “interim service” that would displace the current volunteer organization and begin dismantling JCFPD. This could happen prior to the first meeting of LAFCO regarding the Resolution to dissolve JCFPD.
The community of Julian-Cuyamaca is not a municipality. Rather, it is a large geographical area that comes together as a community through social and volunteer activities. JCFPD is the most significant bond in this regard because it is a State Agency and holds some authority. JCFPD volunteers not only protect this community, they organize a variety of community events, including but not limited to:
- JCFPD Fire Explorers. High school students join this organization to learn the skills and opportunities of career firefighting. Many of our current volunteers participated in this organization and many have gone on to have career opportunities with State and Municipal departments.
- JCFPD Community Emergency Response Team. This group of volunteers holds training for residents in fire protection strategies and preparation of evacuation plans.
- Annual Pancake Breakfast in Lake Cuyamaca. This is a fundraiser the volunteers organize to help purchase equipment and supplies. It also creates the opportunity for residents of Julian and Lake Cuyamaca to socialize.
- Halloween Trunk or Treat. JCFPD participates in this local event at the Elementary School. It has also conducted a “Fire & Ice” program, giving information about fire protection to students at the Julian Library, along with ice cream cones.
These and other activities create a sense of community and stimulate other local charitable organizations to provide services to the community, such as scholarships to high school graduates and support for Boy Scouts
Residents of Julian believe this historic town is a special place and honor its 34 year old volunteer fire department. We appreciate the volunteer spirit and believe that replacing JCFPD with a County and State agency would be detrimental to the sense of community. A small, local agency is able to react to community needs faster than a large outside agency, and can do so in a much more economical way. The majority of residents believe that JCFPD can provide better fire protection and emergency medical service than an agency with distant offices.