After CHP officer handcuffs firefighter, a call for cooler heads

A California Highway Patrol official met with the San Diego County Fire Chiefs Assn. after a confrontation between a CHP officer and a Chula Vista firefighter.

After a California Highway Patrol officer handcuffed a Chula Vista firefighter for not moving his engine at a crash site, the chief of San Diego County's largest fire department has called on his personnel to keep their opinions off the Internet in an effort to not ratchet up the controversy.

"I told everybody, 'Stay off the blogs, be respectful,'" Javier Mainar, chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, said Thursday.
His comments come as pictures of the freeway confrontation between the CHP officer and the 12-year veteran firefighter drew attention nationwide.

The incident occurred Tuesday night at the scene of a rollover crash on Interstate 805.


The Chula Vista Fire Department arrived first, with a firefighter-engineer parking his fire truck behind an ambulance to protect ambulance employees and the crash victims who were being loaded for transport to a hospital.

A CHP officer ordered the firefighter to move the fire truck because he felt it was unsafely blocking a lane of traffic.

When the firefighter refused to immediately move the truck, saying he needed to confer with his captain, the CHP officer handcuffed the firefighter and put him in the back of a patrol car, where he remained for about 30 minutes.

No arrest was made.

The incident was caught on video by a TV news crew and was shown on television and splashed on websites nationwide.

On Wednesday, after a meeting at the Chula Vista Fire Department, the department and the CHP issued a joint statement expressing "utmost respect for each other and our respective missions."

The officials went on to call it "an isolated incident" that would be the topic of  future joint training sessions "in an ongoing effort to work more efficiently together."

The San Diego department also had a truck at the accident. When the CHP ordered it moved, the firefighter driver checked with his superior and then moved the vehicle, Mainar said.

On Thursday, at a previously scheduled meeting of county fire chiefs, CHP Chief Jim Abele reiterated the joint statement issued Wednesday after a meeting between CHP and Chula Vista fire officials.

"He told us that they are not going to get into the practice of handcuffing firefighters," Mainar said.

The issue of fire trucks at the scene of freeway accidents is a topic of discussion at joint training sessions, including one just six weeks ago, Mainar said.

Although the CHP is designated as the lead agency on freeway accidents, a transfer of authority may not have occurred after the CHP arrived at the scene, officials said.

At the fire chiefs' meeting, there was agreement on one point, Mainar said: "We all agreed that this could have been handled better."

Like the Chula Vista chief, Mainar said the Chula Vista engineer, identified as Jacob Gregoire, a 12-year veteran, did nothing wrong in telling the CHP officer that he needed to check with his superior.

"The engineer did everything that he should have done," Mainar said.

Twitter: @LATsandiego