"We Don't Think It Will Happen To Us"

Since I started writing for Firehouse®, I have learned as much as I have shared. Each month, I get letters and telephone calls offering advice, words of encouragement, details of apparatus accidents and real-life experiences. Last May, I received a...


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An investigation had begun and the Lansing police officer doing the investigation had stopped by to interview me but my family had asked if the officer could come back later on and he was nice enough to say he would. For a while, time went by with me not knowing exactly what was going to happen in my life. However, it was obviously about to change. Following the police investigation, the county prosecutor's office issued a charge of negligent homicide. The prosecutor's office felt there was enough evidence to bring criminal charges against me and an arrest warrant was issued. I then proceeded to contact an attorney as the criminal process began.

The police investigation determined that the traffic signal at the intersection cycled as I approached. The officer stated that the light had been "red" for about three to four seconds and that there were no signs of skid marks. The speed limit on this stretch was 45 mph and it was determined that I was going between 41-43 mph. Most of the witnesses stated that the light had just turned and they also heard my siren and/or had seen my light as I approached the intersection. In the collision, I had struck the other vehicle broadside. It was estimated by the police that the other vehicle was going 13-14 mph.

I was given the opportunity to turn myself in and was arraigned and released on a personal recognizance bond until the trial. If found guilty of the charge of negligent homicide, the penalty would be two years in prison.

The trial was about two weeks away and the prosecutor's office offered a plea bargain which was a plea of negligent homicide a misdemeanor. Well, thinking about this and discussing this with my wife and attorney and not knowing what a jury would do, I chose the plea bargain. With this plea bargain I was able to keep my license as a paramedic.

On the day of the sentencing I received one year in the county jail, a restitution fee for the family's funeral expenses of $5,000 and five years of probation. Because of good behavior I only did 78 days in the county jail. The first few weeks were tough. I will never forget the look on my wife's and my child's face the first time they came to see me as I could only communicate through a phone from a glass window as my son hollered my name Daddy. That was hard.

Time had gone by and I owe my wife, her family, my family, members of my department and my friends a debt of gratitude for watching over my wife and child while I was gone and for their prayers.

I am still a lieutenant with the Delhi Township Department and since then we have moved the Air Truck to Station One and changed some policies about personal vehicle response. The civil suit was settled out of court for $500,000, although I will always wonder what a trial by jury would have resulted in. I can only pray that no other person will ever have to go through the experience that we have gone through.

Thank you for giving me the incentive to write this letter as I've needed to do this for quite some time.

I would like to thank Don Fox and the Delhi Township Fire Department for sharing this important, yet tragic event. The next time you respond in your personal vehicle, think about response safety, think about Don Fox and realize we all have one thing in common we don't think it will happen to us. This column is stark evidence that this is a firefighter's magazine, for you and about you. Our job is firefighter safety and education. One of the most frequently asked questions is can I copy and use an article to train my firefighters or use it as a handout? The answer is yes. That is what we are here for. Remember, a safe response is the best response.


Michael Wilbur, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is an FDNY lieutenant in Ladder Company 27 in the Bronx and a firefighter in the Howells, NY, Fire Department. He is an adjunct instructor at the New York State Academy of Fire Science and the Orange County Fire Training Center. Wilbur has developed and presented emergency vehicle operator courses throughout the country and has consulted on a variety of fire apparatus issues.