CHP dispatchers return to work after mistaking devastating Angora fire for a controlled burn
Nevada Appeal News Service
Two California Highway Patrol dispatchers who mistakenly told 911 callers in the early stages of the Angora fire that the blaze was a controlled burn are back at their posts in the Truckee communications center, an official said.
But the dispatchers, who have not been named, are likely to face some discipline as a result of their actions on June 24, said Capt. Gary Ross, commander of the CHP field office in Truckee.
“They will face disciplinary action. To what extent, I don’t know yet,” Ross said Tuesday.
Ross said he hadn’t yet received results of an investigation into the dispatchers’ actions. But Ross said he knew of nothing that would have led the dispatchers to believe there was a controlled burn in progress that day.
Meanwhile, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman said the dispatchers’ actions did not delay firefighters’ response to the Angora fire.
Forest Service firefighters in Meyers and South Lake Tahoe firefighters spotted the smoke and “self-dispatched” to the blaze, Norman said.
Ross said in July that the dispatchers’ actions delayed response to the fire. On Tuesday, he said that was a preliminary assessment and he would have more information after receiving the report on the investigation.
The dispatchers were removed from their positions on July 4 and reassigned out of the Truckee office, officials said.
Last month, CHP Assistant Chief Michael Champion said the dispatchers returned to their posts in Truckee after 60 days. One dispatcher is a 27-year CHP veteran and the other has been a dispatcher for 17 years, Ross said.
Most 911 calls from cell phones go directly to the CHP, which has its nearest dispatch center in Truckee.
Kim Emery, communications supervisor for the CHP’s Truckee office, said the dispatch center implemented a new controlled burn log, which includes information from the Forest Service on which days controlled burns will be taking place.
If a caller reports a wildland fire on a day when a controlled burn is not scheduled, the caller will be transferred to the appropriate fire department. If a controlled burn is in progress that day, dispatchers will still seek additional information from the caller, Emery said.
“We do question them – does it look like it’s out of control?” Emery said.
On the South Shore, the South Lake Tahoe police and fire communications center has not changed its procedures regarding controlled burns, said Public Safety Dispatch Supervisor Leona Allen.
“We haven’t changed anything,” Allen said. “We dispatched appropriately (during the Angora fire). We continue to do so.”
The communications center receives a report each day from the Camino dispatch center, indicating whether controlled burns are planned anywhere in the basin, the locations, and what staffing will be provided for the burns.
Camino dispatches for the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire.
If a caller reports a wildfire during a controlled burn, South Tahoe dispatch can hold a conference call with the caller and Camino dispatch to determine if the fire being reported is a controlled burn or not. If there’s any possibility the blaze is not a controlled burn, firefighters will be dispatched immediately, Allen said.
“If there is any doubt whatsoever, we send the resources,” Allen said. “We don’t second guess.”