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Route 35 in this area is a three-lane highway in each direction, eastbound and westbound. It is posted as a 50-mph speed limit in this section. The eastbound and westbound lanes are divided by a very small curbed/landscaped area on each side of a guard rail. Where the accident occurred was at the overpass over Gettysburg Road. This overpass has a long history of being known for getting slick well before most areas of the highway, even worse than other overpasses, for some reason. We as a department have responded here many times for accidents due to the overpass getting iced. I have been told of many instances of close calls of crews working in this area.
As we arrived in the westbound lanes, as our response would dictate from our direction, we found a single vehicle on its passenger side up against the guard rail and a light pole with the passenger’s compartment near the guard rail, the vehicle on the eastbound side of the guardrail. A Dayton Police Department (DPD) cruiser was already on scene with the left lane blocked. We positioned our ladder to block the second lane. I knew we were going to have crews working on both sides of the guard rail, but mainly on our side due to the position of the car. Twenty-nine seconds after arrival, I asked a DPD officer to shut down the eastbound lanes.
A DPD officer or two and a couple of bystanders were holding the vehicle in position as it appeared to be unstable. My first thought was that we were going to have to stabilize the vehicle before any extrication work began. As a ladder crew, we carry limited stabilizing equipment. Most of the stabilizing equipment is on Rescue 1. I decided we would tie a rope to the vehicle and run it across the eastbound lanes tying it off to the guardrail across the highway. I instructed one firefighter to get the rope and prepare to tie off the vehicle to the guardrail but to not begin this or cross the guardrail until we got the eastbound lanes completely shut down.
Coming from the same firehouse, our district chief had arrived with us or soon after us. I was sure he and DPD were making provisions to get lanes on the eastbound side blocked. My driver and I had looked in on the occupant to find that it was a single female who stated she was fine, but could not get out of the vehicle. He had a suggestion for extrication, which I agreed with, and he prepared with our third firefighter to gather equipment that would be necessary once Rescue 1 arrived and the eastbound lanes were closed.
As I looked across the eastbound lanes, I noted two other vehicles that had apparently spun out against the guardrail on the other side, but it appeared any injuries may be minor. I was going to instruct my firefighter who was to tie off the vehicle to check on those occupants after he had completed stabilization.
I knew it was going to take time to block lanes on the other side of the highway because this area sits at the edge of the city limits and no other equipment responding to this area would have been normally traveling in the eastbound lanes. They would have to travel past our location westbound to the next traffic light-controlled intersection approximately one mile farther west to turn around and come back to the scene in the eastbound lanes. It appeared we would have some time for this as the occupant of the vehicle appeared to have minor injuries if any at all.
Then it all broke loose.
Crashing into the scene
As I stepped back to further survey the situation, a second vehicle, a small pickup, had apparently also lost control, sliding in and striking the first vehicle and also ending up on its passenger side against the first. This was one minute, 37 seconds after our arrival. I took a quick look around to see if any of my crew or other people on the scene near the vehicle had been injured; all appeared to be OK.
I radioed to the district chief that we needed to shut down the eastbound lanes immediately. That transmission was made eight seconds after the crash of the second vehicle into the first. I knew my crew members were going back to the first vehicle to check whether that occupant’s condition had changed due to the second impact.
I turned my attention to the second vehicle. My intention in crossing the guard rail was to check how many occupants were in the vehicle and their condition to see if my priorities were changing, then get back to the “safety” of the guardrail. I entered from the “downstream” side of the vehicles, maybe, in hindsight, having a sense of some security behind the already wrecked vehicles. I took a quick survey of the vehicles and their positions. I looked inside and found there was a single male occupant of that vehicle and he stated he was OK. I think I had just enough time to tell him to stay put and we would get him out soon.