Dispatchers dismissed early fire calls | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Dispatchers dismissed early fire calls

William Ferchland and Samantha Young

SACRAMENTO — Two dispatchers with the California Highway Patrol initially dismissed 911 calls that came in reporting a fire on the south rim of Lake Tahoe, causing a seven-to-nine-minute delay in their response, according to recordings of the 911 calls that were released Friday.

On the tape, taken from five calls answered by the CHP Truckee field office, dispatchers tell callers the smoke they are seeing is from a controlled burn in the area. The smoke actually came from a fire that ultimately destroyed 254 homes and burned 3,100 acres of mountain wilderness.

The calls were not associated with the calls received from the South Lake Tahoe dispatch center. Most 911 calls made from cell phones go directly to the CHP dispatch.

“I’m on the golf course, it’s – uh – Lake Tahoe Country Club, and we can see smoke coming off the mountain to the west of us,” a man reports, according to a transcript of the first call received by the CHP’s Truckee communications center at 2:02 p.m. on June 24.

“Yeah. Yeah, they’re doing a – a control burn there,” the dispatcher responds.

“Thank you,” the unidentified male caller responds. “Sorry to bother you.”

Capt. Gary Ross, commander of the CHP field office in Truckee, said their dismissals caused a delayed response to the fire.

The dispatchers also did not follow CHP policy, in which they are instructed to keep callers on the line and transfer them to a local fire department in such situations. Instead, they let the callers hang up.

Both dispatchers were removed from their positions on July 4 and have been reassigned out of the Truckee office while the CHP investigates, Ross said.

“We have policies in place to make sure these type of things don’t happen,” he said.

The CHP said it will not release the names of the dispatchers. One is a 27-year CHP veteran and the other has been a dispatcher for 17 years, Ross said.

A CHP captain out of Chico is handling the investigation, Ross said.

The tapes were released after several media organizations filed public records requests.

Transcript of 911 calls to CHP Truckee on Sunday, June 24:


Dispatcher: 911.

Male: Yeah – uh – I’m on the golf course, it’s – Lake Tahoe Country Club, and we can see smoke coming off the mountain to the west of us –

Dispatcher: Uh-huh

Male: – Slide Pole Peak?

Dispatcher: Yeah. Yeah, they’re doing a – A control burn there.

Male: Okay.

Dispatcher: Okay.

Male: Thank you. Sorry to bother you.

End of call


Dispatcher: 911, CHP. Hello, 911, can I help you?

Male: (inaudible). Can you hear me okay?

Dispatcher: Yeah, I can now. What can I do for you?

Male: Can you hear me okay?

Dispatcher: Yes, sir. Go ahead, what can I help you with?

Male: Okay, have you – have you had a report of a forest fire – uh – north of Highway 50 right at the Meyers?

Dispatcher: Right at Meyers?

Male: Yeah.

Dispatcher: Well, I had – had a report of a –

Male: Three quarters of a mile up the hill.

Dispatcher: Up – up the hill. Yeah, I did. Yeah, that’s –

Male: Are you –

Dispatcher: – that’s a control burn.

Male: Okay.

Dispatcher: Thank you. All right, bye.

Male: You bet.

End of call

Transcript redacted:* (inaudible) and see what they got there. Hey, just checking, CHP. We’re getting a bunch of calls of a fire that’s visible on Highway 50 just up the hill, west of Meyers. Do you know anything about that?

Female: (inaudible).

Transcript redacted: They – they – they – partway up the hill be above Gunmount or something like that?

Female: (inaudible) check on, I got a 911 call, I’ll be right back with you.

Transcript redacted: Okay. Yeah, I got to go, too.

Female:kay. All right.

Transcript redacted: All right. Bye.

End of call

Dispatcher: Nine-one-one, CHP.

Male: Yes, I am – uh – on the ninth hole of the golf course looking at – uh – (inaudible) there’s a fire up there, looks like it’s part of the upper Truckee up there.

Dispatcher: Oh, okay. Yeah, I’ve been hearing about that. Thank you.

Male: Okay, not a problem.

Dispatcher: All right, bye. Uh-huh. Well, I’m going to go ahead –

End of call


Dispatcher: 911, CHP

Female: Hi – um – we’re coming down – uh – Echo Summit, and I’m seeing white smoke on the side of –

Dispatcher: Uh-huh, is that by the airport? That’s a control burn.

Female: Okay, good. All right. Thank you.

Dispatcher: Okay, thanks.

Female: Bye-bye.

End of call


Dispatcher: 911, CHP.

Female: Yeah, hi. If you’re coming into Lake Tahoe from Nevada coming in the back way –

Dispatcher: Uh-huh.

Female: – well – uh –

Dispatcher: There’s a fire by the airport.

Female: It – it is a fire.

Dispatcher: By the airport? You see a lot of smoke?

Female: I do not (inaudible) –

Dispatcher: Or the golf course?

Female: – but we saw a lot of smoke (inaudible)

Dispatcher: It’s the control burn, I’m pretty sure, so we’re checking on it now.

Female: It’s a control burn?

Dispatcher: I’m pretty sure, yeah.

Female: Okay.

Dispatcher: Okay?

Female: Bye.

Dispatcher: Thank you. Okay.

End of call


Dispatcher: 911, CHP.

Female: Hi, there’s – has someone called in a fire over in Meyer?

Dispatcher: Oh, okay. Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of reports on it. Thank you.

Female: Do you know what the story is with that? I live over there.

Dispatcher: Oh, you – well, I’m not sure. Yeah, I’m trying to get through to fire to verify if it’s a control burn or not.

Female: Okay.

Dispatcher: Okay, thank you.

Female: Bye.

End of call

Dispatcher: 911, are you reporting a fire just out of South Lake?

Female: Yeah.

Dispatcher: Yeah, I got it. Thank you.

Female: Perfect. Thanks.

Dispatcher: All right, bye.

End of call

Dispatcher: 911.

Male: Hi, I hope I’m not clogging the emergency lines. Do you know about the fire that’s just starting out in Meyers?

Dispatcher: Yes, I do.

Male: Okay, thank you.

Dispatcher: Thank you.

Male: Bye.

End of call

Dispatcher: Oh, it’s unbelievable. Yeah. In – 911, CHP.

Female: Hi, I can see a fire on the ridge leading up to Echo Lake.

Dispatcher: Right. Right. We’re – we’re getting a bunch of reports on it and I’m letting them know.

Female: Okay.

Dispatcher: Thank you.

Male: Thanks. Bye.

End of call


Transcript redacted: CHP.

Female: Hi, hold on for just a second.

Transcript redacted: Okay.

Female: Hold on, hold on. Oh, gosh. I’m – I’m going nuts with calls here. I -something’s going on.

Transcript redacted: We have, like, 20 calls on this fire, so.

Female: Oh, okay. All right. (inaudible).

Transcript redacted: Well, my guy is heading up to Alpine that way so we’ll get a report on it.

Female: All right. See you.

Transcript redacted: (inaudible). Okay, thanks.

End of call


Dispatcher: 911, CHP.

Female: Hi, it’s Sac Com with a transfer.

Dispatcher: Hello.

Female: Hello.

Dispatcher: Hi.

Female: I’m up in the Heavenly gondola –

Dispatcher: Uh-huh.

Female: – and I see smoke west of the airport about halfway up the side of the mountain.

Dispatcher: Yep, (inaudible).

Female: Thank you.

Dispatcher: Okay. (Recording ends).

End of calls

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