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 incident was managed smoothly. The Slinger Fire Depart-ment had trained throughout the previous year on incident command, and the entire department and some members of neighboring departments went through incident command classes. The Slinger department then set up meetings with all mutual aid departments to explain its policies and procedures, and to gain an understanding of each mutual aid department's policies and procedures. The departments have worked together many times at fires, setting up the structures of the incident command system. Also, many types of incidents were practiced from water movements to multiple-victim accidents.

What Can Be Learned

Establish a list of resources available to your department. At this scene, numerous basic life support (BLS) and advanced life support (ALS) ambulances, helicopters, hydraulic rescue tools, dump trucks, construction equipment and towing companies were used. Make arrangements before incidents occur and before assistance is needed.

A close ongoing relationship must be established with commonly used resources as well as other possible resources. The Slinger Fire Department, for example, includes Dick's Ambulance Service in all decisions involved in setting up standard operating guidelines for vehicle accidents and in all vehicle accident training. The fire department also trains with other departments throughout the year. This helps the departments' personnel know each other personally and know each other's actions and abilities. All departments agreed they would rather be called to a scene and not required to work than to be called too late.

The extrication crew learned not to work with blinders on. Normally extrication practice involves removing doors and roofs, and even making a third "door" into a two-door vehicle. The crew found another way into the vehicle by air chiseling the side panel of the van to expose the side supports, cutting the supports and folding down the side of the van.

Protect the dignity of patients and victims. Each media agency was trying to get an edge over the others. Law enforcement officers needed help keeping them away. Attempts were made throughout the incident to cover the patients/victims and protect the bad parts of the scene from the media. Firefighters had to keep pulling the media away from areas where they should not have been. The Slinger Fire Department received numerous letters from people from all over the state telling them how nice of a job they did protecting the victims' dignity. Something so humane sticks in the minds of the customers (taxpayers) and gives your department a better image.

Hold a critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) session following a major incident. All of the members benefitted from the time spent talking about the incident with their peers. Many questions were brought forward and answered. One firefighter/EMT was relieved to learn what had happened to the patients/ victims after they were removed from the vehicle. He was relieved to know that each patient/victim was double- and triple-checked for the possibility of life after leaving his care.

Stress debriefing should also involve firefighters who were not on the scene. The fire department becomes a second family to its members. All the members are affected by any incident, even if they are not directly involved. The members needed a conclusion to their duties. They needed to know others were going through the same feelings they were, and that they were there for each other. All of the agencies involved in the incident were invited to the debriefing, including members from the Washington County Sheriff's Department, the Slinger Police Department, Flight-For-Life, Dick's Ambulance and mutual aid fire departments.

Always expect the worst. The call was paged as a single-car/single-person-trapped accident. When firefighters arrived on scene, 13 patients confronted them. It surprised everyone when all the extra help was requested. Otte requested enough ambulances or helicopters to treat everyone and notified the hospital, which in turn held over its third shift.


Brad Schaefer is a firefighter/EMT with the Slinger, WI, Fire Department and a paid-on-call firefighter with the North Shore Fire Department.