City-CHP Sign Helicopter MOU

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

March 16, 2022

The City of Morro Bay has inked a new agreement with the California Highway Patrol for continued use of its emergency helicopter for search and rescue operations.

The City Council recently approved a request from Fire Chief Daniel McCrain to enter into a new “Memorandum of Understanding” with the CHP for training and mutual aid of the CHP helicopter, which though based at the Paso Robles Airport, flies missions all over San Luis Obispo County, working with multiple fire and police agencies.

In Morro Bay, the CHP chopper is often used when someone foolishly tries to climb Morro Rock.

“The CHP helicopter,” Chief McCrain said, “is utilized frequently on ocean rescues, and Morro Rock incidents within the Morro Bay response area. The purpose of this MOU is to authorize properly trained Morro Bay Firefighters to assist the CHP flight crew with rescue operations within the Morro Bay response area and automatic aid areas.”

The new agreement is expected to cost just $3,200 a year for specialized training with the helicopter crew.

The Chief said the CHP has three levels of training. First is “Helicopter Rescue Awareness,” or simply put, operations training for the chopper’s safe landing zone, i.e. working around a helicopter safely, and how to ride inside of the aircraft.

Second level is “Helicopter Rescue Operations” training, or working under the helicopter “to safely operate rescue equipment, and how to attach and disconnect equipment from the helicopter hoist.”

The third and possibly most familiar type for the layperson is “Helicopter Rescue Operations,” which encompasses the first two and adds “being hoisted by the helicopter, how to safely transition in and out of the helicopter, and flight safety while attached to the hoist.”

Morro Bay’s firefighter would be trained to this third level. 

Readers may recall several years ago when a video of a rescue operation of a stuck climber on Morro Rock with the CHP helicopter lowering former MBFD Capt. Todd Gailey, was posted online creating quite a sensation.

The helicopter training just adds to the skills of a fire crew that the Chief said, “are already trained in multiple disciplines of technical rescue and is the lead agency for rescue emergencies within the city. Department members that are part of the County Technical Rescue Team (TRT) currently assist with these operations.”

The MOU means the City doesn’t have to get its own helicopter nor contract for a private one, as the State pays the costs to keep the bird in the air, and the local fire departments simply provide extra personnel to work on non-law enforcement rescue cases.

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