I-Team obtains emergency calls from S.F. oil spill
SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 29, 2007 (KGO) (KGO) -- Police departments in California are required under the law to make all sorts of official records available to the public, but that doesn't always happen.
All the experts say the first two hours after an oil spill are critical. We have a CD that contains three phone calls made about an hour after the cargo ship hit the Bay Bridge.
They show the coast guard refused help from the San Francisco Fire Department and apparently downplayed what happened, even to other emergency agencies.
Last week, Coast Guard commanders claimed they did not refuse help with the oil spill offered by the San Francisco Fire Department -- that the only thing firefighters could do was search and rescue, and that wasn't needed.
But, recordings of phone calls obtained by the I-Team tell a different story.
This is fire dispatch asking Coast Guard dispatch why they called off "Fireboat One" -- its dock was just a short distance to the scene.
Fire Dispatch: "We basically were responding and then Fireboat One came up on the air and said that you did not need our response."
Coast Guard dispatch: "I, yeah, I don't know that anybody here actually ever requested a response."
Fire Dispatch: "Okay."
On that phone call, Fire Dispatch is clear -- help is available, but the Coast Guard doesn't want it.
Fire Dispatch: "Fireboat One says a boat did strike the bridge or was in distress."
Coast Guard dispatch: "A boat did hit like the fender around the bridge--"
Fire Dispatch: "Right, I've seen that."
Coast Guard dispatch: "The bridge is fine is what we're being told, the boat itself has some damage to it, some looks like structural damage."
Fire Dispatch: "Okay, but you're able to able to basically do everything you need to do without us."
Coast Guard dispatch: "Yes, but thank you for your assistance."
Fire Dispatch: "Okay, alright, thanks very much."
Coast Guard dispatch: "Thank you."
Fire Dispatch: "Bye."
Coast Guard San Francisco Commander Paul Gugg refused to be interviewed today, citing scheduling conflicts.
He referred us to a Coast Guard statement from last week that says: "We are investigating exactly what happened and what communications took place during this response jointly with the city of San Francisco and others to ensure a more effective reaction to any future incident."
One other call between Fire Dispatch and the Office of Emergency Services duty officer shows that the Coast Guard was reluctant to give out information -- even to other authorities.
The fire dispatcher is explaining why he sent out a text message about the incident to emergency staff. He refers to a "PIO" -- press information officer.
Fire Dispatch: "Rather be safe than sorry, yeah, I think they're handling it, it was basically some boat just crashed."
OES Duty Officer: "Okay, is this just like one of the fishing boats or--?"
Fire Dispatch: "They're really not giving out a lot of information; they got a good PIO, so-"
OES Duty Officer: "Okay."
Fire Dispatch: "But it sounds like they're just treating it as, you know, a-"
OES Duty Officer: "Just a routine?"
Fire Dispatch: "Yeah, somebody doesn't know how to drive a boat, so-"
OES Duty Officer: "Okay."
More than an hour after the crash, the Coast Guard didn't even explain to Fire Dispatch it was a massive cargo ship that hit the bridge.
"It does add to the frustration," said Warner Chabot from the Ocean Conservancy.
We discussed these new recordings with Ocean Conservancy's Warner Chabot. Like other environmentalists, he's upset about the spill and the response to it.
"I think it's unfortunate, I think there was probably some bad communication, I think what it shows is we probably haven't got a good enough system to have immediate response and immediate booming to protect the bay in the event of a major collision," said Chabot.
We were there when Warren Chabot met on Thursday afternoon with executives from the private company hired by the ship's owners, to clean up the oil.
Here is how it works: Before any ship comes into San Francisco Bay, they have to have made arrangements with local companies, to respond to any disaster.
Complete recordings of the San Francisco oil spill emergency calls:
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