Both California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers and the Chula Vista fire department responded to a car crash that occurred Tuesday evening on north I-805 between Telegraph Canyon Road and East Orange Avenue–but before the scene was clear and traffic flowing again, one firefighter was in handcuffs and sitting in the back of a police car, arrested while responding to the emergency.
According to officials, a CHP officer ordered the fireman, Jacob Gregoir, who was in full fire gear, helmet and all, to move his engine out of the center divide. Gregoir was working the scene at the time, checking the car overturned on the freeway for victims, and reportedly told the officer, who has not been identified, that his captain would have to okay it before the truck could be moved. The officer told Gregoir he would be arrested if he did not move the truck, which was parked behind an ambulance in accordance with standard safety protocol taught to fire crews. It serves to protect the emergency responders from any oncoming traffic.
Gregoir failed to move his vehicle and was officially detained by the officer in front of news cameras covering the crash. Victims can be seen in the background of the video as other officers and fire crews tend to their needs. The officer put Gregoir in handcuffs and placed him inside a Highway Patrol vehicle, where he remained for about half an hour before being released without explanation.
The Chief of the Chula Vista Fire Department said after the incident that it was absolutely ridiculous for the Highway Patrol to have arrested a firefighter while in the midst of responding to an emergency. He cited the differences in priorities as the reason for the exchange, saying that the safety of victims and firemen is their number one concern while the CHP is mostly concerned with clearing the freeway and allowing traffic to continue to flow. He also stood by Gregoir’s actions, saying that the firefighter had done exactly what his training required.
Officials in both agencies met Wednesday morning to discuss the conflict, calling it “unfortunate” and an isolated incident. They have promised to work on their communication, as there are no firm rules about the various departments working together at the scene, simply a series of guidelines. Another official mentioned that threats of fireman arrest had been made by the CHP before, but that no action such as handcuffing had actually occurred previously. Joint training sessions will address these types of encounters in the future.
While officials have called this an isolated incident, it isn’t the first time that a firefighter has been arrested while at the scene of an accident. In Santa Barbara County in 2010, a Battalion Chief from Montecito was arrested when he declined to move his engine which was blocking lanes of traffic. He was also responding to a crash at the time.
A firefighter in Missouri was arrested for similar reasons in 2003 while responding to an emergency and sued in retaliation, being awarded over $17,000 by a federal civil court jury.
By Marisa Corley