Emergency radio recordings show that helicopter pilots with Orange County Sheriff and Orange County Fire bickered, and that Sheriff pilots ignored a direct order to “stand down,” during a pair of rescues in Laguna Beach and Orange on Saturday, revealing an escalating battle between the two agencies over helicopter-related emergencies and who responds to them.
For several months, Sheriff’s Dept. pilots have poached rescue calls sent to the Orange County Fire Authority, with helicopters from both agencies often racing to the scenes at the same time, county officials said Friday. Such dual-action responses are costly and potentially dangerous for the pilots and people on the ground. In 1987, helicopters from Costa Mesa and Newport Beach police departments collided while responding to the same police chase, killing two Costa Mesa officers and a civilian who was in the aircraft.
The arguments that played out over radio on Saturday took place while helicopters from both agencies were flying over crowded beaches and a park.
“It has to be resolved before there’s a terrible incident,” said County Supervisor Todd Spitzer.
“It’s so tense between the two agencies,” Spitzer added. “But we are aware of it and asking the agencies to work it out.”
Spitzer said he has met several times this year to discuss the friction with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Fire Chief Jeff Bowman, but the tug-of-war continues.
Sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Lane Lagaret said Friday that Internal Affairs is investigating the Laguna Beach incident, but he could not provide detail because of state law protecting the privacy of officers. He also declined comment about why Sheriff pilots are responding to calls made to the Fire Authority.
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…