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Calif. firefighter cuffed for refusing to move fire truck

A CHP officer ordered the rig moved and handcuffed a fire battalion chief who refused

By Angel Pacheco
Santa Barbara News-Press

MONTECITO, Calif. — A California Highway Patrol officer handcuffed and detained a Montecito fire battalion chief on Presidents Day after the firefighter refused to move a fire truck, which was blocking Highway 101 traffic, in order to protect officials responding to a crash.

The Montecito Fire Protection District battalion chief was released as soon as a CHP supervisor arrived at the scene, and no charges have been filed, CHP Capt. Jeff Sgobba told the News-Press Monday during a brief meeting at Montecito fire headquarters on San Ysidro Road. The agencies are looking into the incident internally.

“For a member of another agency to get detained and placed in handcuffs is highly unusual, rare, regrettable and frankly, caused embarrassment to both departments,” Sgt. Sgobba said.

He added: “We’ve been discussing this before, and we’re not going to let one situation between two individuals ruin a perfectly good relationship we enjoy with Montecito Fire Department.”

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Check out what these FireRescue1 Facebook fans had to say about the incident and voice your opinion in the member comments section.
Last time I checked my ICS procedures the Fire Department is in charge of any fireground and emergency scene this CHP officer should be fired. He is a danger to himself and the public.”

Eric Sherman

What happened to working together as a team when it comes to potential life-and-death situations? This is just so very wrong and sad.”

Katie Lenoir

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The CHP arrived at the minor-injury collision on the southbound side of Highway 101 north of Sheffield Drive first, and fire crews soon followed. Firefighters positioning a fire rig at an angle going into the shoulder and blocking the fast lane, as is the department’s standard procedure to protect the initial responders, Capt. Sgobba said.

“This was at 3 o’clock in the afternoon — you know — on a Monday after the three-day weekend” Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Wallace said, referring to the heavy traffic at the time.

Capt. Sgobba continued: “There was a difference of opinion whether (the battalion chief) should move his rig or not because they had not had an opportunity to assess the injured parties, and our officer abruptly reminded that battalion chief to move the rig.” The battalion chief did not comply with the CHP demand and was subsequently handcuffed and detained until the CHP supervisor arrived, at which point he was immediately released, Capt. Sgobba said.

Chief Wallace received a report of the incident but he was unable to respond in his personal vehicle because of traffic, but he said it was mostly resolved about half an hour after it started.

“We’re just doing a follow-up because of what happened,” Chief Wallace said. “We want to make sure that the good relationship that we’ve had is not deteriorated by this single incident.”

Of the parking technique, Chief Wallace said, “At an angle, you’ve got that much more square footage to protect you.”

The vehicle did not impede on the slow lane, according to the department.

The CHP officer apparently believed the placement of the vehicle would add to traffic, which was backed up for several miles because of the holiday weekend and the crash, Capt. Sgobba said.

The agencies have discussed the response tactics, and Capt. Sgobba said they likely would have come under scrutiny regardless.

“When there are differences of opinion, that’s when we debrief the situation and find out what we could have done differently,” the captain said. “If the policy needs to be modified or training needs to be adjusted, we do that, and that’s another mutual agreement between the representatives of the departments.”

Sgt. Sgobba confirmed the CHP officer transferred back to the Santa Barbara area from Bakersfield about a month ago after being gone for a little more than two years.

Asked if the disagreement could have anything to do with the officer still re-familiarizing himself with local policies, Capt. Sgobba said it’s possible, but he didn’t know.

The chief concluded, “It’s regrettable, and we’re moving on from here to improve our relationship.”

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Article republished with permission from the Santa Barbara News-Press