Massive Pile Up On Interstate 80

Jay K. Bradish details what happened when a fast-moving snowstorm along Interstate 80 in central Pennsylvania produced ice-covered highways and whiteout conditions. The storm caused a major multi-casualty accident involving 30 tractor-trailer trucks and...


On Jan. 6, 2004, a fast-moving snowstorm along Interstate 80 in central Pennsylvania produced ice-covered highways and whiteout conditions along a 10-mile stretch of the highway. A major multi-casualty accident covering a distance of 3,000 feet and involving 30 tractor-trailer trucks and 14 other...


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On Jan. 6, 2004, a fast-moving snowstorm along Interstate 80 in central Pennsylvania produced ice-covered highways and whiteout conditions along a 10-mile stretch of the highway. A major multi-casualty accident covering a distance of 3,000 feet and involving 30 tractor-trailer trucks and 14 other vehicles occurred at 11:08 A.M. in Boggs Township, which is in Centre County.

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Michelle Klein/Centre Daily Times
Aerial view of the western side of the accident scene. Only a portion of the scene is visible, as it was 3,000 feet long.

BELLEFONTE FIRE DEPARTMENT

Chief: Tim Knisely
PersonneL: 70 career and volunteer firefighters
Apparatus: Three engines, two ladders, one rescue engine, one tanker, two brush trucks
Population: 12,000
Area: 42 square miles

The accident claimed the lives of six occupants of passenger vehicles and injured 17 other people. Several other accidents occurred in the area at the same time, stretching first-responding units to their limits.

Before this incident was concluded nearly 32 hours later, agencies from five counties with over 250 personnel became involved. The westbound lanes of the highway remained closed for an additional 24 hours for accident reconstruction and cleanup operations to be completed.

The Bellefonte Fire Department ? consisting of the Logan and Undine Volunteer Fire Companies ? was dispatched at 11:11 A.M. for a reported accident on Interstate 80 between Exits 161 (Bellefonte) and 158 (Milesburg). Bellefonte Rescue-Engine 1-14, a 1,500-gpm pumper, responded at 11:12 with four firefighters under the command of Bellefonte Deputy Chief Robert Frazier Jr.

While responding, Frazier was advised by the Centre County Communications Center that it was receiving reports that 10 to 15 tractor-trailers were involved. Frazier requested mutual aid from the Citizen?s Hook and Ladder Fire Company of Milesburg at 11:12. Rescue-Engine 9-14 a 2,000-gpm pumper, responded under the command of Chief Brian Burns with seven firefighters. Bellefonte Engine 2-10, a 1,000-gpm pumper, responded at 11:15 with five firefighters under the command of Captain Jayson Lose.

Also responding on the first alarm were two basic life support (BLS) ambulances from Bellefonte Emergency Medical Services, Medic 24, a paramedic unit from Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, and Medic 15, a paramedic unit from Lock Haven Hospital in Clinton County.

As Milesburg Rescue-Engine 9-14 was entering Interstate 80 on the eastbound ramp, Burns could see that the accident was in the westbound lanes. There were no emergency cross-overs, and the next exit was where Bellefonte was entering, so Burns decided to have the engine turn around, exit the on-ramp and proceed up the westbound off-ramp going east in the westbound lanes.

Bellefonte Rescue-Engine 1-14 reached the westbound on-ramp at 11:22. Firefighters witnessed additional accidents occurring as they proceeded up the on-ramp, including two tractor-trailers jackknifing in the westbound lanes and a modular home sitting on the roadway after it had fallen off another tractor-trailer. Traffic was backed up over one mile from the location of the major accident. Bellefonte Engine 2-10 was directed to proceed east from Exit 161 to the mile marker 163 crossover and proceed west, checking for additional accidents.

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Courtesy of Centre County EMA
View looking east from the command post in the westbound lanes. Removal of vehicles began almost immediately to gain access to people trapped in the wreckage.

Frazier was notified by the communications center that Pennsylvania State Police troopers were at the scene of the major accident and requesting multiple ambulances and the coroner. At this time, two additional ambulances were requested from Alpha Ambulance Company in State College, one from Snowshoe Ambulance Company and two from the Pleasant Gap Fire Department EMS.

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