JULIAN, Calif. (KGTV) - Has anyone seen Engine 57?
That's the question the San Diego County Fire Department is asking after the official legal takeover of the formerly volunteer-run Julian-Cuyamaca Fire District. The county and the small town department are stuck in a legal battle since the volunteer department's dissolution in April 2019.
Previously, members of LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission), a group that overseas special county districts, voted to dissolve the volunteer-run fire department.
In March 2019, citizens voted the fire agency in charge should be San Diego County Fire Department. In April 2019, the official handover was supposed to happen.
"It's been very clear to us that the people in the community want the county [Fire Department] to be their service provider," San Diego County Fire Chief Tony Mecham said.
Not everybody agrees, as some residents said the change in hands was decided in a secret meeting -- an illegal move according to the Brown Act.
"These are people they trust. People that are their neighbors, their friends," Julian resident Vicki Newman said.
Newman said she has been an advocate for the small town department since volunteers saved her brother-in-law's life. She said she does not understand why both departments can't coexist.
"We need all the boots on the ground. We don't need just Cal Fire. It's not just J.C or Julian against Cal Fire," Newman said.
Volunteers cannot respond to calls anymore because legally, the station is now owned by the county. In April, a judge allowed county crews to begin daily equipment inspections. But for the last two months, they say the department's $200,000 Engine 57 has been missing.
"Ultimately, about a week ago, we reached the decision that they were probably not going to return the engine, and we filed a missing vehicle report with the sheriff's Ddepartment," Mecham said.
The county says whoever is harboring the fire engine is not giving up.
So who has it?
"There's nothing I can say about that," Newman said.
She did not know where the fire truck was being held, adding, "I think if you have questions about that, you should talk to Mr. Briggs."
10News called attorney Cory Briggs, who represents the volunteer department, but calls were never returned.
Mecham said if the truck were returned tomorrow, they do not wish to press charges. They just want this new era of the County Fire Department to begin before fire season.
"There is equipment there that the county would certainly like to refurbish and put right back into the community," Mecham said. "And we've been prohibited from doing that."
Both parties say they hope to resolve the issue quickly through the courts and will accept the legal outcome.