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This month, we see history repeating itself in two very different ways. The first account is of yet another apparatus being struck, but fortunately no fire-rescue personnel were hurt. We hope that all fire departments have adopted clear policies, procedures and guidelines (along with training) to ensure all personnel operating on any roadway are well protected. For sample standard operating procedures (SOPs), go to www.ResponderSafety.com as well as www.FirefighterCloseCalls.com. In the second account, we look at a very personal and unique close call â€“ that is, unique to this column, but not unique to firefighters.
Thanks to Lieutenant Michael Oâ€™Brian and Chief Richard Marinucci of the Farmington Hills, MI, Fire Department for their assistance in the first part of this column. We also thank all of the Farmington Hills firefighters and officers who were operating at this close call.
Additionally, to Chief Peter W. Meade, assistant chief fire marshal for Nassau County, NY, Fire & Rescue Services, for sharing his very personal and extremely important close call in the second part of this column. And while we rarely do this, we would like to dedicate this monthâ€™s column to his brother, Chief Mike Meade of Great Neck, NY, who succumbed to a heroic battle against cancer a few weeks ago. Mikeâ€™s family told me that he was never in pain and he was laughing all the way to the end.
Close Call No. 1: Apparatus Struck
Lieutenant Michael Oâ€™Brianâ€™s account:
On Dec. 31, 2005, at 10:47 A.M., Rescue 1, Squad 1 and Car 505 of the Farmington Hills Fire Department were dispatched to an unknown accident on Interstate 275 (northbound), north of Nine Mile Road. The units responded non-emergency since the accident was minor and the emergency medical dispatch reported the run as a non-emergency response. That morning, there had been some light snow that turned into slush on the shoulders of the highway. The travel lanes were mostly wet.
Upon arrival, Rescue 1 found a single car on the right shoulder. The four travel lanes (reduced from five) were moving just below the posted speed limit of 70 mph. The crew placed the vehicle on the shoulder and elected to not block a travel lane as the accident appeared to be off the roadway. The officer of the vehicle turned on the emergency lights and exited the vehicle on the curb side along with two firefighters from the back of the rescue.
The driver of the rescue was exiting the apparatus when he noticed a car in the median losing control. The car began to spin through traffic and appeared to be moving toward the rescue truck. The driver remained in the vehicle as the firefighters on the shoulder stayed in the protected area of the rescue. The vehicle struck the guard rail and slammed into the rear of the rescue.
The vehicle struck the rescue on the driver side of the passenger car with major impingement on the vehicle. The firefighters immediately evaluated the scene and requested additional units to respond emergency to the scene. The two people in the car were unconscious and absent of vital signs. The on-duty battalion chief was the next to arrive and placed his vehicle in a â€œfend-offâ€ position, protecting the scene with the vehicle and requesting additional transporting units. The rescue appeared to have been moved from the shoulder and five to 10 feet and partially into the first travel lane.
The responding crews performed a rapid extrication and began advanced life support (ALS) procedures. Although the patients temporarily regained vital signs, both succumbed to their injuries.
During the investigation of the accident, the highway was reduced to one lane. This caused a major backup. Approximately two miles from the accident, a driver of a pickup truck who came upon the backup decided to back down the entrance ramp. At the same time, a garbage truck was on the entrance ramp. The garbage truckâ€™s driver quickly realized the traffic was stopped. In order to stop in time, the driver of the garbage truck left the road onto the shoulder. The garbage truck and pickup collided and created a second accident in which the driver of the pickup had to be extricated. This incident occurred in a second cityâ€™s jurisdiction.