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OC Sheriffs and Fire Authority Collaborate on Air Operations

When a person is stranded in the wilderness, injured in a remote part of the county, or simply needs an emergency air evacuation, it is critical that our first responders are on the scene as quickly as possible.

In that spirit, Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) and Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) have agreed to a solution to the longstanding conflict between both agencies’ helicopter operations. Following mid-air confrontations, duplications of service and, arguably, unprofessional procedures, OCSD and OCFA have announced a new Joint Air Operations Plan covering helicopter operations.

Over the last several months, OCSD and OCFA have worked cooperatively to develop a new Air Operations plan and have been operating under the principles of the agreement in order to secure the health and safety of Orange County residents. The new operating plan will govern helicopter activity of both agencies and how emergency air operations will be coordinated and conducted between the two agencies.

The plan outlines the agreed upon responsibilities for both organizations, namely that OCSD helicopters are tasked with air search and rescue responsibilities, as well as emergency medical calls for service that occur on non-paved roadways that are not suitable for vehicular traffic. Additionally, OCFA is the primary agency for fire-related missions and ground-based emergency medical calls that occur on paved highways and roads suitable for vehicular traffic. This approach will ensure that the two agencies are working in coordination to complement capabilities rather than duplicating efforts.

Getting to the approved Air Operating Plan has been a long and winding road, months in the making. I would like to thank both, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy, for their leadership in reaching this historic agreement. As an Orange County Supervisor and member of the OCFA Board of Directors, I have a unique role serving both agencies and have continuously worked with both to ensure they find an appropriate solution that best serves all residents of the county.

OCSD and OCFA are premier public safety organizations, and the coordination of their assets is critical to ensuring appropriate responses to emergency calls. The new plan will enhance public safety for all residents and visitors of Orange County, and ensure that our air assets are used in a manner that is most effective.

As the agencies continue to collaborate and work side by side, it is important to review other ways to enhance efficiency and effectiveness, such as the co-location of aircraft in central Orange County at John Wayne Airport. As your County Supervisor, I remain committed to protecting the safety and wellbeing of my constituents and will continue to ensure that our first responders work collaboratively to provide the highest levels of service.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett represents the 5th District on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, which includes the cities of Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, (portions of) Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.


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