Wisconsin Accident Claims 8 Lives

Firefighters and EMS responders dispatched to a report of a one-car accident on an icy Wisconsin highway arrived to find something much worse: a chain-reaction accident involving two tractor-trailer trucks, one straight truck and two vans. Seven of the 13...


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The extrication crew worked side by side with the firefighter/EMTs inside the van. Dick's Ambulance Service personnel were also on scene and assisted in care of the patients inside the van. Triage inside the van was difficult due to the limited space. The injured victims were removed and taken to a secondary triage area next to the van to be reassessed and prioritized. Command assigned Firefighter/EMT Chuck Dodge, from the second-in Slinger engine company, to assist with the overall scene from the EMS side. Dodge asked the St. Lawrence Fire Department to assist with setting up triage and blocking the view of the accident scene from passing motorists and media. Dodge also maintained records of the destination and status of all the transported patients.

Firefighter Rick Hanke assumed fire protection operations and foamed the area due to the large amount of diesel fuel on the ground. The area was then diked and all the contamination was cleaned up and maintained in hazmat barrels for pickup by a hazmat agency. He also established crews to spread drying agent and salt to the icy roadway. This assignment freed the chief to handle the extrication operation.

Initial Operations

The initial goal was to take the roof off the van to gain access to the people inside. It was believed that four of the people inside the van were still alive but the entanglement made it impossible to be certain. As the operation proceeded, the condition of the highest-priority patient began to decline, so priorities were changed to try to reach him sooner. Because of the damage to the driver's door, a second entry point had to be made. The chief had the extrication crew open the side panel of the van with an air chisel to expose the support beams. The crew then cut points behind the B post and, because of the location of side windows, cut the C post in front of the D post, and cut the side-support posts of the van. The side of the van could then be folded down, opening the entire side of the van.

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Photo courtesy of Slinger Fire Department
Allenton firefighters extricate the driver of the tractor-trailer truck that was away from the other vehicles. The driver suffered a broken shoulder and minor cuts and bruises.

EMS crews that had been standing by with long boards removed the patients (some deceased victims had to be removed to reach patients) and took them to the triage area. All the deceased were covered and the patients were treated. The extrication crew continued to remove the roof until the second-highest-priority patient was accessible. He was the farthest one inside the van toward the blocked passenger side of the van. He was removed and patient care was given to the Flight-for-Life nurse and doctor. The last patient was then removed.

Three obviously deceased patients remained inside the van. The Sheriff's Department took photos and measurements of the remaining victims. The greatest care was taken to cover the bodies and the scene to protect the dignity of the patients and victims. When the Sheriff's Department had completed its duties, the three remaining victims were extricated.

The crews directly involved with patient care and extrication were immediately sent back to the firehouse in the equipment truck, contaminating only one vehicle. At the firehouse one area was set up as a decontamination area. The first crew in removed all turnout gear, disassembled it and sent it out for cleaning. All tools and equipment that had been near the scene were brought back to the decon area, cleaned and disinfected before being put back in service.

Because of the severity of the damage to the tractor-trailer that was 250 yards away, it took rescuers 40 minutes to extricate the driver. He was transported with pain to his shoulder and minor cuts and bruises. The driver of the straight truck refused transport and signed a release form on scene. The driver of the first van was unhurt and required no care. His van stalled as he drove through the debris left by the second tractor-trailer but sustained no damage. The driver of the second tractor-trailer had a laceration to his head and was transported to a hospital.

One patient from the second van was flown by Flight-for-Life to a trauma center with broken extremities, facial fractures, and internal injuries. He passed away eight days later. Another patient from that van was transported to a hospital, where he was assessed with broken extremities and later transferred by land to the trauma center. He was alert and oriented throughout the incident. Of nine patients inside the van, he was the only survivor.

Incident Command