SOUTH SALT LAKE — Police arrested a homeless man they say tried to steal a South Salt Lake firetruck so he could drive to Washington to see his mother.

Firefighters were on a medical call near 200 East and 3000 South a little before 11:30 a.m. when they heard the air horn on their fire engine blaring, said South Salt Lake police detective Gary Keller.

Two firefighters ran outside to find a man in the driver's seat of their $500,000 fire engine trying to drive away. He first started to drive in reverse and almost hit an ambulance, said South Salt Lake Fire Chief Steve Foote. Then as the man attempted to drive forward, the firefighters jumped into the cab to try to stop him.

The firefighters and the firetruck thief got into a physical confrontation before the firemen were able to put the truck in neutral and set the air brake. The firetruck traveled about 50 feet before firefighters were able to bring it to a stop, Foote said.

But the struggle wasn't over. Once firefighters pulled the thief out of the vehicle, he continued to put up a fight.

"Both my firefighters were engaged in a brawl with this guy," Foote said. "It was a pretty hairy scene there for a while."

One firefighter was hit in the face. At one point, the man ripped a slat off a nearby wooden fence and tried to use it as a weapon. Eventually, three to four firefighters were able to take the man down and hold him until police arrived.

The man, 25, told police he was just trying to get back to Washington "to see his mom on Christmas," Keller said. Drugs or alcohol were believed to be factors, he said.

He was booked for investigation of two counts of assault on emergency medical workers, criminal mischief and unauthorized control of a vehicle.