There are now additional details on the incident Tuesday night where a member of the California Highway Patrol handcuffed and detained a firefighter with the Chula Vista Fire Department. It happened around 9:30 p.m. on I-805.
Reporters have spoken about the incident with Chula Vista Fire Department Chief Dave Hanneman. The fire department is citing scene safety as the reason Engineeer Jacob Gregoire, a member of the department for more than 12 years, refused an order by the CHP officer to move his rig from the center divide and instead continued to assist with aiding a crash victim. A San Diego deputy chief acknowledges that while CHP has authority by law on California’s highways, the police officer had never assumed command of the incident (more below).
In addition, there is a statement from the fire chief (below) and a later joint statement from both agencies following a meeting Wednesday.
“To detain one of our firefighters in the middle of an incident is ridiculous, and it doesn’t provide the good customer service, the good public service that both our agencies are there to do,” Chula Vista Fire Department Chief Dave Hanneman said.
According to Hanneman, crews at an emergency scene usually use a method of working together called an incident command system.
“If the officer was going to take command of the incident, then he has the ability to do that because (CHP) has jurisdiction, but I don’t know that that occurred yet because he just got on scene. So all those are questions that need to be asked,” Hanneman said.
According to the Chula Vista Fire Department, the CHP responded along with three fire rigs — two from Chula Vista and one from San Diego. For the most part, the agencies seem to work together seamlessly.
Hanneman said a CHP officer ordered the rigs to leave, and two of them did.
He said Gregoire’s truck was positioned to protect the three remaining firefighters, the three medics, the ambulance and people about to be loaded into it and since pulling out would put them at risk, the truck stayed.
Then this went out over the radio:
“I did not move our engine so it’s still in the initial spot, and we’re just continuing with patient care.”
“This is ridiculous. We’re in the middle of patient care with patients on the [freeway] and we’re trying to protect our scene … and they’re putting him in handcuffs at this time and walking him away.”
“In California, the Highway Patrol has overall authority on freeways and highways,” said San Diego Fire Deputy Chief Steve Ricci. “They are the incident commanders. However, we (fire personnel) were on scene first and the Chula Vista captain had assumed incident command at that point.
“As to a formalized transfer of command to the CHP — I don’t believe that ever took place.”
A San Diego Fire-Rescue Department engine crew also went to the crash site. As the crew was getting out to help, a CHP officer said they weren’t needed and should leave, Ricci said.
Ricci said the engine captain got out anyway and conferred with the Chula Vista fire incident commander before leaving. Ricci said his captain was not threatened with arrest for failing to move immediately.
In an emergency, the Chula Vista Fire Department is responsible for the safety and care of the injured victims and for the safety of the crew. Our goal at an emergency is to secure the scene and begin emergency care and transport victims to the hospital as soon as possible. Last night, there were two injured passengers our crew needed to reach and treat in a rollover vehicle accident on Interstate 805. One of our firefighters on the scene was detained by the California Highway Patrol. I am very proud of how Engineer Jacob Gregoire and the other firefighters on the scene handled the situation. While we work very well together with the CHP 99% of the time, we need to find out what happened last night and how we can improve training and communication to prevent something like this from happening in the future.
California Highway Patrol/Chula Vista Fire Department 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.