Orange County can't decide on search-and-rescue protocol

Both the Orange County fire authority's and sheriff's departments are responsible for sending helicopters to search and rescue calls.
Both the Orange County fire authority's and sheriff's departments are responsible for sending helicopters to search and rescue calls.
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The Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the county Fire Authority said this week they’ve reached an impasse in talks on who should be the lead agency in carrying out search-and-rescue operations using helicopters. 

In recent years, both the sheriff's and fire department have been taking calls for search and rescue. The overlap has proved both confusing and costly. George Casario, the vice president of the Orange County Fire Chief Officers Association said the two departments have had over forty meetings to try and hammer out an agreement. 

The sheriff's department said there was an agreement written in the 1960s over search-and-rescue policy but no one could find the paperwork. Under a new memorandum of understanding, both parties are eqaully responsible for these calls. 

OC Supervisor Lisa Bartlett suggested a mediator help the two sides create rules that work for all during Tuesday's supervisor's meeting. But that idea was voted down. The sheriff's office said there is a deadline of Sept. 12 for the both parties to come to another memorandum of understanding. But it's unclear if they will make the deadline. 

Bartlett said that "both entities feel they should be doing certain functions within that scope of work."

But Bartlett said it can be risky when they overlap on search-and-rescue calls. 

"I have heard of incidents where we've had multiple helicopters coming in very rapidly into a particular 9-1-1 incident location, and it's not always providing the highest level of safety when you've got multiple aircraft within a very tight space," she said. 

Casario said the sheriff's department was dubbing emergencies search-and-rescue calls in an effort to "mission grab and expand their mission and responsibility." He said while the fire department "welcomes the enhanced services of the sheriff's department aviation support unit," they want to be recognized as the primary responder to all EMS calls.

But Lt. Lane Lagaret, a spokesman for the sheriff's department, said that his department has advanced life support services that he believes the residents will benefit from.

Despite the clock ticking on creating another memorandum of understanding, Supervisor Bartlett says she isn't sure on how quickly the departments can schedule mediation to try and reach an agreement.

"I doubt that could be done within the next 30 days," she said.

It's not a contest between the two departments, according to Lagaret. He said it's instead about the ability "to provide aid to someone in need, to provide additional resources to medical services for our citizens."