Speak Up: Car Over Embankment Threatens Historic Downtown Business District

T he City of East Dubuque is in the far northwest corner of Illinois bordering Wisconsin to the north and Iowa to the west. The city is a bluff community overlooking the Mississippi River with the historic downtown being nestled into the base of the bluff.

Early into the lunch hour on Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, the East Dubuque Fire Department (EDFD) was dispatched for a vehicle that went over the embankment. This overall incident fell into the category of a low-frequency/high-risk event. Personnel operated professionally and with expertise, but the event brings about points for consideration on handling these unusual responses.

The East Dubuque Fire Department is an all-volunteer department responding from two stations providing fire, rescue and first-responder EMS services to the city and surrounding fire district. Upon arrival, responding personnel found a vehicle that had gone through the protective barrier gates of a church parking lot and plummeted down a bluff. The vehicle was leaning against and suspended by utility wires strung between poles. The driver of the vehicle had self-evacuated prior to arrival of the fire department.

After assuming command, the fire department, assisted by the East Dubuque Police Department, cordoned off the area and requested assistance from the various utility companies and a local tow company. The primary concern was the impact to the downtown businesses should the supporting utility pole snap, bringing down the utility lines and endangering the businesses in close proximity to the incident.

The vehicle was removed using the Public Works Department’s backhoe and a semi-tow truck. The backhoe bucket was used to stabilize the vehicle enough to allow the tow operator to hook onto the vehicle. The tow operator then lifted the vehicle in the air and set it in the parking lot.

Chief Joseph Heim

East Dubuque Fire Dept.

East Dubuque, IL


The writer is a 21-year fire service veteran and is the volunteer chief of the East Dubuque, IL, Fire Department. He also is a career fire officer working full time as deputy fire chief of the Rock Island Arsenal Fire Department. Heim holds various fire service certifications and is a frequent area fire service instructor, teaching primarily in the field of command tactics and strategy of the Blue Card System.