Sheriff and Fire Departments in Orange County feud over helicopter responses

Orange County Fire Authority helicopter
(Last Updated On: May 6, 2017)

Above: file photo of firefighter with Orange County Fire Authority helicopter. OCFA photo.

In an air battle over the responsibility for helicopter rescues in Orange County, California the losers are the taxpayers and accident victims.

Historically the County Sheriff’s Department air fleet has taken the lead for searches, while the Orange County Fire Authority has handled rescues. Recently, however, the Sheriff has been poaching responses to rescues resulting in multiple helicopters appearing over the same incident potentially causing airspace conflicts and confusion.

According to the Orange County Register it happened twice on April 29, with the Sheriff’s helicopter being told repeatedly by the Incident Commander they were not requested and then ignoring orders to “stand down”.

Below is an excerpt from their article:

…Recordings from radio chatter on Saturday show sheriff pilots ignoring direct orders from local commanders.

In Orange, the commander on the ground told the sheriff pilot, “You will abide by what the ground (Incident Commander) is asking you to do.”

The sheriff helicopter completed the medical assistance call anyway.

“My concern is if you have four aircraft in the air, and the sheriff refuses to communicate, who will get hurt if there is an air accident?” said Orange City Fire Dept. Deputy Chief Robert Stefano.

In Laguna Beach, where an intoxicated 17-year-old was pulled from a beach cove, the commander told the Sheriff’s pilot, “You are not requested.” The Laguna official also declared that the Sheriff’s pilot was creating “an unsafe air operation” by not answering direct orders.

In another recording of the same incident, a Laguna Beach dispatcher told a fire official “It sounds like the sheriffs have gone rogue. They’re not listening to the (Incident Commander).”

It is absurd that emergency management professionals operating very expensive aircraft cannot act like adults and do what is best for the taxpayers, citizens, and accident victims who need the best medical care available administered in a safe environment.

The Orange County Register has a recording of the radio conversations that is astounding.

7 thoughts on “Sheriff and Fire Departments in Orange County feud over helicopter responses”

  1. Do rescues get reimbursed differently (more?) than searches? Sheriff’s Department may be in search of more “billable hours”.

  2. California State law mandates Sheriff’s departments are responsible for Search AND Rescue! Fire departments have become the poachers, oblivious driven by a need to prove their fiscal existence.

    1. Wait…what? “Obviously driven by a need to prove their fiscal existence”. That’s kind of funny given you are on a page dedicated to firefighters…and for the record, if OCSD had any interest in working with other agencies, they would have left when they were asked and worked it out later instead of creating an unsafe enviroment for the other professionals working there.

    2. Know your facts, OCFA has been running the rescues in this county for over 20 years. The weekend warrior OCSD Aviation cowboys just decided to join the party. Hmmmmm

  3. I’m guessing there’s MUCH more to this story then posted here…it’s probably political and been going on for a while…

    We’re going thru the same type of issue right now with our County, only Engine related not aircraft so that’s good. But that radio conversation is nearly identical to what happened here last week.

  4. I did some volunteer work in OC, back when they were contracted with CDF (CalFire). It was understood even back then that OCFD (now OCFA) handled rescues. So what changed?? Could it be the brand new, multi million dollar helicopter OCSD just received actually is what needs justification?? The previous poster (TBone) is confusing search and rescue like mountain rescue with urban search and rescue which at least in Southern California, law enforcement has NEVER handled!!

  5. Maybe OC Sheriffs could buy some ambulances next, and do some bls transport, help little old ladies in and out of their houses, drunks with slip and fall and all the other super glamorous stuff fire departments do all across the country.

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