A Chula Vista, Calif., firefighter got himself arrested Tuesday night because he refused an order from a California Highway Patrol officer to stop administering aid to a crash victim on a local freeway to move a fire engine strategically parked in the fast lane to protect the scene.
A video of the incident made public by CBS News 8 has prompted public outcry with some calling for the unidentified officer to be fired, while fire and police officials are working to tamp down heightened emotions over what they say is an "isolated incident."
They maintain that is does not reflect the usual complementary working relationship that exists between the lifesaving agencies. The video shows the unidentified CHP officer handcuffing firefighter Jacob Gregoire, 36, at the scene of the accident while other fire crews and officers continue helping the victims of the rollover accident involving a white Honda Civic.
Gregoire, who has been with the Chula Vista Fire Department for 12 and a half years, was detained in the back of a police car for approximately half an hour before he was released.
As the video of the incident continues making the rounds in various media, public reaction to the actions of the officer continues to be mostly negative, with some calling for him to be fired.
"Firefighters run accident scenes. The CHP officer was out of line directing the firefighter where to park his truck because firefighters use their trucks as a shield from any vehicles crashing into them. The CHP officer should be punished as well as issuing an apology to Chula Vista Fire," noted Lucas Setter via Facebook.
"I go to school for firefighter & EMT training, all my teachers are firefighters. They don't have much to say, due to liability, as well as there's not much they can do since they weren't at the scene. The firefighter uses his rig in such a manner to stop any motorist from colliding with them and those he helps. It's easier to replace vehicles than it is people, who can never be replaced," wrote Guillermo Hernandez Jr. in the comments section of a YouTube video of the report.
"The cop should have been fired," said Kolby Husby.
Officials from both the CHP and Chula Vista Fire Department discussed the incident in a meeting Wednesday and released the joint statement below:
"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."
CBS News 8's Phil Constantine, who worked with the CHP for 20 years, said what the officer did was legal after watching the video but could not comment on whether his action was necessary.
"You can tell someone to move the vehicle. Whether it's justified, I can't comment on," he said.
A similar incident in 2003 involving a firefighter and a police officer in Missouri resulted in a jury in federal civil court awarding the firefighter $17,000.
A statement from the local International Association of Fire Fighters follows below.
"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 805 Freeway.
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 ½ 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."