California to decide county dispute over helicopter rescues
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — The state will attempt to settle a dispute in a California county where the sheriff’s department and fire authority are battling over which agency should conduct air rescues.
Orange County supervisors voted Tuesday to refer the problem to the state after Fire Authority Chief Patrick McIntosh told the board his pilots would continue responding to rescue calls in remote regions.
McIntosh said he would ignore Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ recent decision to unilaterally take over helicopter operations in those areas.
The sheriff’s department and the fire authority each has insisted it is better qualified than the other to make air rescues. Sheriff’s helicopters tend to arrive first to scenes, while fire helicopters tend to get people to hospitals faster, according to the Orange County Register .
It says pilots from the sheriff’s department and the fire authority have regularly clashed — with helicopter teams from both agencies racing to rescue scenes, at times arguing over radio and face-to-face after flying in the same airspace.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson said recent incidents in which fire and sheriff’s helicopters flew in close proximity to each other were “so far outside of the realm of acceptable (that) somebody needs their license taken now.” He described the incidents as an ongoing “game of airborne chicken.”
Hutchens’ announcement Jan. 16 formally ended a prior agreement that named Orange County Fire Authority as the county’s primary responder, the newspaper said.
The California Office of Emergency Services will take up the dispute.
County Counsel Leon Page said another short-term response could be to report close encounters between helicopters to the district attorney’s office, which he said could file charges against fire authority pilots for “interfering” with the sheriff’s department’s “peace officer in the performance of their duties.”
Supervisor Todd Spitzer urged McIntosh to abide by Hutchens’ “pronouncement under state law” and not send his helicopters to wilderness rescues. But McIntosh told supervisors that OCFA would continue its air-rescue operations based in part on the direction of its attorneys. He said the agency’s board will meet Thursday and discuss the matter further in closed session.
Information from: The Orange County Register, http://www.ocregister.com