SAN DIEGO - For the first time, a firefighter who was cuffed and detained by a California Highway Patrol officer at an accident scene is telling his story.
“I just remember it being very surreal,” said Jake Gregoire.
The emergency scene clash sparked national headlines. The crash occurred in early February shortly before 9:30 p.m. on northbound Interstate 805 in Chula Vista, California.
A Ford Mustang struck a concrete construction barrier and overturned. Three engines responded: two from Chula Vista and one from San Diego. Gregoire was driving one of the Chula Vista rigs.
“I was right next to the patient that we were going to pick up off the ground, getting ready to load into the ambulance, when I was interrupted,” said Gregoire.
He remembers a CHP officer, identified as Officer Sergio Flores, barked at him.
“I was told if you don’t get back into your fire engine and go back to your fire station, you will be arrested,” said Gregoire, “I was dumbfounded.”
While two other fire engines left the scene, Gregoire says he refused to leave because his rig was acting as a buffer, protecting the ambulance and first responders from traffic.
Emergency crews were set up in the southbound lanes, where all but one of the lanes was open.
“I couldn't live with myself for the rest of my life that someone could potentially be injured because I didn't stand up for what I believe in,” said Gregoire.
Moments later, Gregoire says Flores cuffed him and put him in the back of a cruiser. Gregoire thought his 12-year career was over.
“It was the worst 30 minutes of my life,” he said. “I'm sitting in the back of this ambulance … thinking how am I going to tell my wife?”
After the two agencies’ supervisors went back and forth for half an hour, Gregoire was released. No charges were filed.
A day later, the CHP and Chula Vista Fire Department issued a joint statement, calling it an “isolated incident” and a topic for future joint training sessions.
Scripps station Team 10 investigator Michael Chen asked Gregoire, “You’ve gotten a lot of media requests. You've said no. So why come forward now?”
“Just because I don't think it was handled properly,” answered Gregoire.
He has hired attorney Dan Gilleon, who filed a claim against the CHP and the state, alleging civil rights violations.
“Because there were injuries, the incident commander was Chula Vista Fire,” Gilleon said. “CHP could have taken over jurisdiction, but they did not. In reality, the CHP officer was obstructing.”
Gilleon says he has uncovered a documented 2010 incident involving Flores threatening a firefighter with arrest, along with several cases that occurred after the incident: two more run-ins with CHP over parked engines, one involving Flores.
“It shows it's happened before, it's happened since and it's going to continue until something is done,” said Gilleon.
Gregoire says he believes no lessons have been learned and a new policy is needed. He says what is at stake is the welfare of those at the scene, including accident victims.
“We're delaying giving them care because we're spending time talking about where to park,” said Gregoire. “I also think about how much I don't want any other firefighter to go through this.”
Scripps Station 10News reached out to both the CHP and Chula Vista Fire. A representative for the CHP declined comment, citing pending litigation. Calls to a Chula Vista Fire Department representative were not returned.
Gregoire says he is willing to drop his claim – a precursor to a lawsuit – if he sees a change in policy.