CHiPs officer arrests Firefighter while actively helping save a crash victim
CHULA VISTA (CBS 8) " Officials from both the California Highway Patrol and Chula Vista Fire Department Wednesday responded to an incident that left a firefighter in handcuffs at an accident site in the South Bay.
CBS News 8 cameras were rolling around 9:00 p.m. Tuesday when the two got into a dispute over where the fire engine should park while firefighters were responding to the crash that happened north on I-805 between Telegraph Canyon Road and East Orange Avenue.
According to officials, the officer told firefighters to move three fire engines from the fast lane, and two complied, but one firefighter refused that request and continued giving aid to the crash victims.
Exclusive video from CBS News 8 shows the CHP officer cuffing the firefighter, identified as Jacob Gregoire, 36, at the scene of the accident. In the background, other fire crews and officers can be seen tending to the victims of the rollover accident.
The firefighter, who's been with the fire department for 12 1/2 years, was detained in the back of a CHP vehicle for about half an hour before being released.
CHP has not released the officer name or if he has or has not been reprimanded for the incident.
The driver of a white Honda Civic involved in the crash was transported to the hospital. No word on the condition of the second driver.
Representatives from the CHP and Chula Vista Fire Department met Wednesday to discuss the details of this incident. Wednesday afternoon, the two agencies released the following joint statement:
"Last night there was an unfortunate incident at the scene of a traffic collision on I-805, where both our agencies had responded. Both the CHP and the Chula Vista Fire Department share a common goal of protecting the public and providing the highest level of safety to responding emergency personnel, involved parties and other drivers at collision scenes.
Both of our agencies have the utmost respect for each other and our respective missions. This was an isolated incident and not representative of the manner in which our agencies normally work together toward our common goal.
This morning representatives from both agencies met to discuss the incident to improve communication and ensure the highest level of service is provided to the public. This incident will be a topic of future joint training sessions, in an ongoing effort to work more efficiently together."
According to Hanneman, crews at an emergency scene usually use a method of working together called an incident command system.
CBS News 8's Phil Constantine, who worked with the CHP for 20 years, watched the video and shared his thoughts.
"That is legal -- you can tell someone to move the vehicle. Whether it's justified, I can't comment on," Constantine said.
He says this has been an ongoing issue for years, in part because there are no rules, just guidelines about working together at a scene.
"Basically you have to do what is reasonable and prudent," Constantine said.
Hanneman stands by his crew, saying while the agencies are working together to find a resolution, nothing on his end will change.
"My engineers and all the crews did exactly what they're trained to do," he said.
CBS News 8 spoke to the President for Local IAFF 2180 John Hess on the phone and says Gregoire did the right thing.
"I'm very proud of Jacob. He did a good job," said Hess. "He made all firefighters look good. He was there to protect the citizens and he was willing to take a stand to do that."
This isn't the first time a firefighter has been detained. In 2010 a Montecito Battalion Chief in Santa Barbara County was handcuffed when he refused CHP orders to move a fire truck blocking lanes of traffic while responding to a crash.
In 2003, a police officer arrested a firefighter in Missouri for a similar reason and he sued. A jury in federal civil court awarded the firefighter with more than $17,000.
In Chula Vista, Hess says this issue between the Chula Vista Fire Department and CHP has come up before and officers have made threats but not arrests or handcuffing a firefighter until Tuesday night.
"I truly believe in my heart that this is going to get solved and that the commissioner is going to get involved and this is going to get fixed," said Hess.
Local IAFF released this e-mail statement:
"On the evening of February 4, 2014 an officer of the California Highway Patrol arrested an on duty Chula Vista Fire Engineer in full turnouts and helmet while the Engineer was rendering medical aid to the victims of a roll-over accident on the south bound 805Freeway. The Fire Engineer had positioned a Fire Engine consistent with his training in a manner that was intended to protect the safety of the victims of the accident the accident as well as the emergency personnel on scene.
The unidentified officer arrived while fire crews were rendering aid. Witnesses state that just prior to the arrest, a different officer ordered a different Fire Engine carrying an on duty paramedic to leave the scene before the medical aid was finished. That Engine departed with the paramedic.
When the Fire Engineer refused to move his Fire Engine before it was safe to do so, the officer told the Engineer "you are under arrest." He then arrested the engineer in front of local news cameras, which captured the arrest on film. The Engineer was lead to a CHP vehicle where the pockets of his uniform were searched and he was placed in the rear of the vehicle. He was kept handcuffed and locked inside the vehicle for a period of over an hour and ultimately released with no apparent explanation.
"We are stunned." Said Fire Engineer John Hess, President of the Chula Vista Firefighters Union. "When we arrive at an accident scene, we have consistently demonstrated a common interest in the safety and welfare of the accident victims and the emergency personnel on scene. Our Engineer parked his vehicle consistent with our standards and training. We cannot imagine what possible explanation could be given to justify this conduct by the CHP officer. This removed a valuable fire apparatus and crew out of service for approximately one hour. This occurred at the same time another Fire Engine was moved to San Diego to support their fatality structure Fire. We had two districts without service for over an hour. We trust that a full investigation into the matter will be conducted. We also appreciate Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez efforts to arrange a meeting between our firefighters and the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol. This forward thinking will prevent this situation from ever happening again to another firefighter in the state of California."
The attorney for the firefighters expressed similar disbelief. "When our office received the e mail link to the news footage of the arrest and viewed the story, every jaw literally dropped." Said attorney Stuart Adams. "When law enforcement and fire get to a scene, they are all about the common business of protecting the victims and the crews present. I have never seen anything like it. But I know that the whole story is not yet out so we shall see what a full investigation reveals before taking any position on the matter."
Chula Vista Fire Chief Dave Hanneman said in a statement "To detain one of our firefighters in the middle of an incident is ridicules." Chula Vista Fire Administration met this morning with representatives of the California Association of Highway Patrol to discuss the incident. The California Highway Patrol assured Fire Administration officials that an investigation would be undertaken. No charges have been filed against the Fire Engineer resulting from the arrest."