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The "Big One" - defined in fire service terms as that response that will surpass all others in a lifetime. We in the fire service often talk about the "Big One" in terms of fires or other emergencies, yet it is seldom mentioned as it relates to emergency vehicle operations.
In Newcastle, WY, the fire department has just had the "Big One." Anndee Huber, a 16-year-old Explorer firefighter, was killed on the night of May 20, 2003, while riding on a Newcastle Volunteer Fire Department tanker driven by 46-year-old Ron J. Caillier. The tanker was one of five apparatus responding to a report of railroad ties burning as a result of a previous grass fire.
According to law enforcement sources and news reports, about six miles outside of Newcastle the tanker drifted off the roadway. When Caillier overcorrected, the apparatus went into a skid and overturned 11/2 times, a Wyoming Highway Patrol report stated. Huber, who like Caillier was not wearing a seatbelt, was ejected from the cab and trapped underneath, police said. She was extricated and transported to Weston County Hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival. Caillier, who suffered minor injuries in the crash, was initially detained on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). Those charges were expanded to include violations of Wyoming Statutes 31-5-233, driving a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, and 6-2-106, aggravated homicide by vehicle.
Chief Clarence Baker, who heads the 40-member department, said there was no drinking at the fire station that Thursday night, news reports indicated. "We have had various functions where we've had alcohol here, but we haven't seen that as a factor in this incident," he said.
Baker said the department has policies against attending any function while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. "If I've had a beer, I just don't come," the chief said. "Ninety-nine percent of the members also feel that way. To come in while intoxicated - that's the height of stupidity."
Caillier did not attend the Thursday "work night," and did not arrive at the fire station until the page for the railroad tie fire. The chief said the department members are uncertain where he came from, but some people reported seeing him at a local establishment that serves alcohol. As far as consuming any alcohol at the fire station, that did not happen, the chief said. Baker said he later learned that Caillier was fined and jailed in connection with a 2002 drunken driving charge, and that he had recently violated probation and was spending weekends in jail. According to both city and county policies, no one with a DUI conviction is permitted to drive a government vehicle.
Caillier was tested 21/2 hours after the May 20 accident with a portable Breathalyzer, and according to the investigating trooper's report, had an alcohol level of 0.086%. State law defines legal intoxication at 0.08%. According to Newcastle Volunteer Fire Department records obtained and reported by the Newcastle News Letter Journal, Caillier was suspended from duty in September 2001 for six months for violating section two of the department's policy, which states in part, "No member shall appear … on duty in a state of intoxication."
Some in the fire service say that alcohol in fire stations or on fire apparatus is part of the past and doesn't happen much anymore. If you believe this and you are in a fire service leadership position, you need to get your head out of the sand. You need to read fire service publications and websites, because the opposite is true, as it will become apparent as you read on.