Claim Filed Against Julian Fire Chief by Volunteer Firefighters Within Department

Sparks are flying in Julian over who should control the fire department -- local volunteers or the county.

The fight could result in the ousting of the Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District's (JCFPD) chief, Rick Marinelli, who called the whole thing “witch hunt.”

The divide stems from the board of the JCFPD, the last independent volunteer fire department in San Diego County, voting 4-1 to remain independent.

The vote came after the county offered to take control of the area, which Marinelli and the board President, Jack Shelver, both supported.

Members of the Julian Volunteer Fire Company Association filed a claim calling for the two to step down, saying that Chief Marinelli has lashed out at them because of their differing of opinions. The claim states that Marinelli called volunteers "backward hillbillies", "incompetent" and "not real firefighters."

Chief Marinelli has denied all claims made against him.

Shelver and Marinelli's pointed toward the county's increased resources as their reason for supporting the county's offer.

The county had been giving the district $72,000 every year but decided to cut the funding after the district's decision to remain independent.

Cal Fire also pulled a paramedic and fire engine assigned to Julian and notified the board that it would be reassigning firefighters from Julian and Cuyamaca stations in the coming weeks, according to Shelver.

Volunteer firefighters past and present say that independence is the right choice, though.

"It's very much the part of the fabric of the community, the volunteers are," retired volunteer firefighter Bill Everett said. He had been with the district for 15 years.

"The responsibility of Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District is structure fires, vehicle accidents and medical calls," Everett added. "We're not the primary responding agency when it comes to wildland fires. That's Cal Fire."

Everett explained that with the county in charge, Julian may be forgotten about and abandoned.

He said that's what happened during the 2003 Cedar Fire when crews were sent to more populated areas other than Julian.

"It's understandable if you have two communities, one has 10,000 people, the other has 2,000 people and your resources are limited. You're going to go to the community that's larger," Everett said.

The volunteers aren't willing to risk their community being looked over.

With an independent department in place, both volunteer and Cal Fire firefighters can respond to a fire event in Julian.

The board and its attorney plan to discuss the claim at their next meeting on Feb.  13. From there it will decide if they'll respond, ignore or start an investigation into the claims.

In the meantime, supporters of the fire district's independence hope to ask voters this year to triple their fire benefit tax from $50 to $200.

The increase would be to help fund the department.

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