Apparatus Rollovers: Some Case Studies

No person involved with the fire service will argue the pain, heartbreak and sheer helplessness one feels when viewing the aftermath of an apparatus rollover. I will never forget my first time. It was on March 29, 1980, only 12 miles from my home, when...


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No person involved with the fire service will argue the pain, heartbreak and sheer helplessness one feels when viewing the aftermath of an apparatus rollover. I will never forget my first time. It was on March 29, 1980, only 12 miles from my home, when a fire apparatus mechanic friend and I looked off to the side of an interstate highway cloverleaf to see a vintage B-Model Mack pumper upside down.

At first, I felt a sense of profound sadness. Then questions ran through my mind at one hundred miles per hour. Were any firefighters injured or killed? Were any civilians involved? How did the accident happen? What was on fire? Were there any injuries or worse at the scene of the fire? How did this accident affect the outcome at the fire scene? How badly damaged was the pumper? Could it be fixed? Would the apparatus be a total loss? What effect would this accident have on the fire department members? What would the long term hold in store for the fire department?

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Photo by Michael Wilbur
Water weight and motion contributed to this apparatus accident.

The accident occurred as the apparatus was enroute to a working truck fire on the interstate. This accident was the result of several factors. The apparatus operator was new and inexperienced. As he drove over the interstate just before entering the cloverleaf, he could see the working truck fire. This caused a high level of excitement at the same time that the rear wheels went off the road shoulder into loose soft gravel.

As the vehicle slipped into the soft gravel, the weight of the water, gravity and the speed of the apparatus catapulted the apparatus onto its roof. The accident resulted in minor injuries to the two firefighters on board the apparatus, but caused the apparatus to be a total loss. The accident also resulted in a delayed response to the original truck fire - but the truck was a total loss before the fire department was ever dispatched.

In this first column in a series we will examine some recent apparatus rollover accidents. Subsequent columns will discuss the factors that contributed to these accidents and actions that can be taken to reduce the number of these types of accidents.

A Virginia firefighter was killed when the rescue apparatus in which he was a passenger rolled over enroute to a report of a gas leak. The firefighter had less than one year of service in this combination department. The accident occurred at about 7:45 P.M. on a winding two-lane road. The rescue rig flipped over on its side after leaving the road and crashing into trees. Two civilian vehicles were also involved in the crash, but there were no civilian injuries. The driver of the rescue was 29 years old and had 11 years of service as a volunteer with the fire department. The driver, who received head and leg injuries, was treated at a hospital and released.

The rescue unit was among seven fire trucks dispatched to investigate a gas leak inside a private dwelling. As the rescue was responding, the operator lost control; the rig veered off the right side of the road and struck a culvert. At this point, the operator attempted to guide the truck back onto the roadway, but overcorrected and the apparatus veered into the oncoming lane. With the fire truck heading toward two oncoming cars, the civilian drivers began taking evasive action, trying to veer to their right and out of the path of the truck. The first civilian driver could not get over far enough, and the fire truck sideswiped this vehicle. The second civilian vehicle sustained damage when it went off the road in an attempt to avoid a collision with the fire truck. Meanwhile, the apparatus operator continued to struggle to bring the apparatus under control. Apparently, he tried to steer it back into his lane of travel. The apparatus ran off the right side of the road, flipped over and struck a tree.

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