An incident earlier this month involving the handcuffing of a veteran firefighter by a California Highway Patrol officer as their respective agencies responded to the scene of an emergency has law enforcement officials reviewing their protocol.
On Feb. 4, at around 9:30 p.m., crews from the Chula Vista Fire Department and CHP responded to the scene of a car crash along Interstate 805 near Telegraph Canyon Road. A vehicle had crashed into the center divider and then rolled through a construction area, injuring two people.
As emergency crews worked, Chula Vista Fire Engineer Jacob Gregoire, 36 – a 12-year veteran of the department – was handcuffed by a CHP officer after he refused to move Fire Engine 52, per the CHP officer’s request.
As Gregoire went to check with his captain about moving the engine, he was cuffed. At the time, the fire engine was parked in a distinct manner meant to protect medics working the scene.
The CHP and Chula Vista Fire Department called the incident between the agencies unfortunate, saying it was isolated and not representative of how the two agencies typically work together toward their common goal of protecting the public.
The two agencies released a joint statement saying the incident would become a topic of a future joint training session.
One week after the incident, Chula Vista Fire Chief Dave Hanneman told NBC 7 that the incident has sparked a review of protocol. Hanneman said what happened between the firefighter and CHP officer appears to be more about miscommunication in an emergency situation rather than a need to change protocol.
Currently, the CHP does have authority on highways. However, since Chula Vista firefighters arrived first on scene that day, the fire captain had initial command.
Hanneman said, per standard operating policy, there was supposed to be a transfer of power or debriefing between the fire department and CHP that likely didn’t occur.
“The communication that occurred between the officer and engineer was about sending the whole company away and moving the engine away from the freeway,” Hanneman explained. “We’re not sure if there was a misunderstanding about whether [crews] were still doing patient care or whether the officer knew there were patients involved in that. Those are critical communication things.”
That said, Hanneman believes there needs to be better communication between first responders, and said that communication gap can likely be fixed through training.
The fire chief said his department, along with CHP and other chiefs in San Diego County, are working together to determine how they can improve to make sure an incident like this doesn’t happen again in the future.
“We’re all working together to make sure the protocol is sound,” he said. “The incident is still being investigated to see what may or may not have taken place.”