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    Default Judge must decide: rescue squad leader was hero or zero

    http://www.nj.com/news/local/index.s...uad_leade.html



    Judge must decide if Bound Brook rescue squad leader was hero or zero

    Posted by LCraven July 08, 2009 21:08PM

    BOUND BROOK -- Seen one way, Richard Dietrich was acting like an overzealous rescue squad volunteer -- and a crusty, foul-mouthed volunteer at that -- who believed the law didn't apply to him.

    Viewed another way, he was a devoted caregiver toting a vital piece of equipment that could help save a life, and he needed to get it to the scene in a hurry.

    Both scenarios played out today in a municipal courtroom in Bridgewater, where Dietrich, 63, fought three tickets issued to him in March after he allegedly disobeyed a police officer, driving his emergency vehicle across railroad tracks to free a trapped woman whose car had been struck by a train.

    Alexandra Pais/For The Star-LedgerBoundbrook EMT Captain Richard Dietrich, left, and his attorney James Wronko contest tickets by the Bridgewater Police Department today.
    The unusual trial pitted against one another two groups that traditionally work hand-in-hand at accident scenes -- police officers and rescue squad members -- and offered sharply conflicting testimony. In the end, a municipal judge tossed out one ticket against Dietrich but reserved judgment on two others pending a review of the case.

    The incident in question occurred the morning of March 28, when a woman's car was struck at a crossing near the TD Bank Ballpark, where the Somerset Patriots play. The car came to rest on the southbound side of the tracks, with the woman trapped inside. That much is undisputed.

    Dietrich, a captain and a 46-year veteran of the Bound Brook Rescue Squad, was among those who responded to the crash. He was at the wheel of a rescue truck equipped with the Jaws of Life, a specialized tool for prying apart mangled vehicles.

    When he arrived at the northbound side of the tracks -- across from the accident scene -- he was stopped by Bridgewater police officer Michael Sommers, according to testimony today. Dietrich left the truck to ask Sommers why he was stopped, and the officer told him a second train was approaching.

    That much, too, is undisputed.

    Then, Sommers claims, Dietrich berated him.

    "I couldn't get a word in edgewise because he was yelling and screaming and using foul language," the officer said on the witness stand.

    Reading from the police report, the municipal prosecutor said Dietrich exclaimed, "This scene is my (expletive) scene, and you have no right to stop me."

    Dietrich denies making the comment.

    "I may have been loud," he said, "but I didn't think it was an argument."

    Sommers said he told Dietrich to park the truck on the northbound side of tracks. An ambulance and fire trucks were already on the southbound side, where the woman was trapped, Sommers testified.

    "There was no need" for him to go over there, he said.

    Despite Sommers' order, the officer claims, Dietrich drove the truck past the flashing lights of the crossing gate and over the tracks, even as Sommers and rescue squad members yelled at him to stop.

    The truck scraped against the crossing gate, Sommers said, damaging the truck and causing the gate to bend and crack, smacking the officer in the chest. Sommers -- who issued Dietrich the traffic tickets -- said he later drove himself to Somerset Medical Center in Somerville.

    Dietrich and three other members of the Bound Brook Rescue Squad don't remember things quite that way.

    On the stand today, they said that once the second train passed, Sommers waved them across the tracks.

    They said a conductor on the ground -- presumably a crew member of the train involved in the accident -- also motioned them to the southbound side.

    "Nobody said anything about stopping," volunteer James Gruszecki testified.

    Dietrich noted, too, that it was the Jaws of Life from his vehicle that freed the trapped woman. Police said she was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick with injuries that were not life-threatening.

    David Mangino, chief of Bridgewater's Finderne Fire Department, confirmed today that there were no Jaws of Life at the site before Dietrich crossed the tracks.

    After hearing the testimony, Municipal Judge William T. Kelleher Jr. dismissed one of the tickets -- that of failure to obey a police officer's direction. Kelleher reserved judgment on a similar charge -- failure to obey a police officer at a scene -- and on a ticket for proceeding through a railroad crossing against a signal. Kelleher said he would issue a decision on those tickets in the next week.

    Dietrich and his lawyer, James Wronko, declined to comment outside the courtroom.

    Star-Ledger staff writer Mark Mueller contributed to this report.

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    ok, lets make sure some things are perfectly clear:

    The EMT captain was driving the rescue truck, and the EMS agency was in charge of the extrication scene (not an uncommon thing in NJ, and yes, many are as good or better than a FD when it comes to rescue operations).

    It was a confirmed entrapment, and there was no other rescue unit on location.

    The police officer said there was no need for the rescue truck to be there, even though it was a confirmed entrapment (kinda makes you wonder why the officer would say something like that)

    how much to you want to bed the tickets that were written were a direct result of a ****ing contest between the cop who didn't like being ignored (as the rescue truck should be at an entrapment) and the Rescue EMT Captain who didn't like being told by a cop that he didn't need to have his truck there at a confirmed pin job.
    If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!

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    Quote Originally Posted by KyleWickman View Post
    When he arrived at the northbound side of the tracks -- across from the accident scene -- he was stopped by Bridgewater police officer Michael Sommers, according to testimony today. Dietrich left the truck to ask Sommers why he was stopped, and the officer told him a second train was approaching.
    Being told a second train is approaching and deciding to drive across the tracks while warning devices are activated is like playing Roulette with a revolver with all but one of the bullets in the cylinder.

    Despite Sommers' order, the officer claims, Dietrich drove the truck past the flashing lights of the crossing gate and over the tracks, even as Sommers and rescue squad members yelled at him to stop.
    The truck scraped against the crossing gate, Sommers said, damaging the truck and causing the gate to bend and crack, smacking the officer in the chest. Sommers -- who issued Dietrich the traffic tickets -- said he later drove himself to Somerset Medical Center in Somerville.
    The crossing gates were down, apparently. Unless this crossing has 4-quadrant gates, he had to cross into the opposing lane and sneak through the gates diagonally. If it had 4-quadrant gates, he had to drive through the middle of them.

    It sounds as if the spring loaded mechanism that lets the gates pivot horizontally did it's job and prevented the devices from breaking. Although, it sounds like the rescue truck is going to need a new paint job, and I'm sure the bill for the crossing repair is going to be hefty. It's not cheap to do even the simplest of maintenance on crossings.

    Further more, WHAT THE HELL IS *ANY* EMERGENCY RESPONDER DOING STANDING IN THE FOUL OF ANY RAILROAD PROPERTY AT ALL? If a second train was coming, these tracks were still active, and therefore the scene is not "safe". Using the term "safe" cautiously here, because firefighting is not "safe" in and upon itself.

    But to put it into perspective - boxcar doors on the latest style of box car can fall off if not secured properly and there is severe harmonic rock. I know, it's happened to me. These doors weigh in upwards of 1500-2000 pounds. They aint friendly.

    The tie-down cables used on flat cars, bulkheads, etc, are like little metal whips, even at 5-10 miles an hour. They get caught on things and then run forward at amazing speeds. I've seen trees, switch stands, and even a vehicle get pretty banged up because of the cable. Some of the cables are the better part of 40 feet long.

    On the stand today, they said that once the second train passed, Sommers waved them across the tracks.
    Any emergency responder should NEVER flag a crossing, unless employed by the railroad and on duty in such a capacity that would allow.

    I've gone by car accidents next to railroad tracks where I'm employed and police offices are arbitrarily flagging cars over the crossing while the lights and bell are activated (Not all crossings have gates...). You won't hear my train coming when I'm in dynamic brakes, going down hill, with the throttle notched off until I'm right on top of you if you've got jaws, radios, and other noise in the background. I'm 100% positive I can "creep" up to a crossing and never be heard, given the right conditions.

    Sounds like these too agencies need to work on their team-work skills and learn how to work together. Then they need to have a railroad safety officer come and teach them how to work around the railroads right-of-way.
    Quote Originally Posted by ThNozzleMan
    Why? Because we are firemen. We are decent human beings. We would be compelled by the overwhelming impulse to save an innocent child from a tragic, painful death because in the end, we are MEN.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Res343cue View Post
    Any emergency responder should NEVER flag a crossing, unless employed by the railroad and on duty in such a capacity that would allow.
    while I am inclined to agree....
    On the stand today, they said that once the second train passed, [Police Officer]Sommers waved them across the tracks.

    They said a conductor on the ground -- presumably a crew member of the train involved in the accident -- also motioned them to the southbound side.
    I too was curious that. if the accident was on the southbound side, why was the northbound tracks not shut down? but it does say a conductor also motioned them across the tracks, so i don't know....
    If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!

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    Quote Originally Posted by DrParasite View Post
    while I am inclined to agree.... I too was curious that. if the accident was on the southbound side, why was the northbound tracks not shut down? but it does say a conductor also motioned them across the tracks, so i don't know....
    The conductor is trained to flag and protect crossings as necessary, including the use of manual railroad signaling in times of emergency.

    It also may have been a case of the train had already received a signal before the block and was permitted into the area before the dispatcher had time to throw reds up, or in the case of non-signalled-territory re-write the track warrant and restrict authority.
    Quote Originally Posted by ThNozzleMan
    Why? Because we are firemen. We are decent human beings. We would be compelled by the overwhelming impulse to save an innocent child from a tragic, painful death because in the end, we are MEN.

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    I was involved in a somewhat similar situation one time. A LEO would not allow me (driving a heavy rescue) to enter the scene (on a major US Interstate) down the offramp (which was closed to traffic at the time.) His statement was "you guys have enough trucks down there, they dont need anymore."

    There were two engine companies on the scene. Neither of which had rescue tools, which is what was needed. It was a matter that the LEO simply was not aware of what the purpose of my vehicle was, and his ignorance. He relented after a terse conversation with his supervisor (who was at the scene.)

    I have to wonder if the same thing happened here??????
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    Let ME make some things clear.

    1. I was not there. I have no idea whatever who was right and who was wrong.

    2. A train v. car in NJ is a crime scene, every time, under the jurisdiction of NJ Transit police. Bridgewater PD was the initial responder and would not, ultimately, be in charge of the scene. Let me repeat. This was a crime scene.

    3. Bridgewater is an extremely busy area. (Helluva FD, too). This was certainly not the first time a response has been disrupted by railroad traffic. One of the people commented, and I agree, Finderne has a firehouse within blocks of this job. They have a heavy rescue. I am unaware if it is equipped with the appopriate extrication tools or why it was not dispatched.

    4. IF the rescue truck was driven around the down gates, regardless of whether he hit them, this operator should be dismissed from the unit and never allowed to touch an apparatus again.

    5. NJ Transit trains are not stopped just because you say so. They confirm the incident. Still, it takes several minutes to make it happen. That is why we never, ever assume that the trains have been stopped. Proper scene safety demands lookouts, several hundred yards up the tracks in both directions. A very good cop and vol. FF in Dover, NJ was killed about 5 years ago at a brush fire on the tracks. They assumed the trains were stopped. (Incident occurred with about 20 FF as witnesses. They were all his friends from his FD. That was one of the most miserable nights of my life. I was called to assist in taking recorded statements from every FF involved).

    http://forums.firehouse.com/showthread.php?t=55873

    6. Somebody's lying.
    Last edited by GeorgeWendtCFI; 07-09-2009 at 03:52 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeWendtCFI View Post
    Let ME make some things clear.

    1. I was not there. I have no idea whatever who was right and who was wrong.

    2. A train v. car in NJ is a crime scene, every time, under the jurisdiction of NJ Transit police. Bridgewater PD was the initial responder and would not, ultimately, be in charge of the scene. Let me repeat. This was a crime scene.

    3. Bridgewater is an extremely busy area. (Helluva FD, too). This was certainly not the first time a response has been disrupted by railroad traffic. One of the people commented, and I agree, Finderne has a firehouse within blocks of this job. They have a heavy rescue. I am unaware if it is equipped with the appopriate extrication tools or why it was not dispatched.

    4. IF the rescue truck was driven around the down gates, regardless of whether he hit them, this operator should be dismissed from the unit and never allowed to touch an apparatus again.

    5. NJ Transit trains are not stopped just because you say so. They confirm the incident. Still, it takes several minutes to make it happen. That is why we never, ever assume that the trains have been stopped. Proper scene safety demands lookouts, several hundred yards up the tracks in both directions. A very good cop and vol. FF in Dover, NJ was killed about 5 years ago at a brush fire on the tracks. They assumed the trains were stopped. (Incident occurred with about 20 FF as witnesses. They were all his friends from his FD. That was one of the most miserable nights of my life. I was called to assist in taking recorded statements from every FF involved).

    http://forums.firehouse.com/showthread.php?t=55873

    6. Somebody's lying.
    6. There is a chance no one is lying. They all just remember things that happened, that did not really happen.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DennisTheMenace View Post
    6. There is a chance no one is lying. They all just remember things that happened, that did not really happen.
    Ordinarily, I would say that I agree, however, there are some accounts here that are diametrically opposed. Gate was down, gate was up. Yelled for him to stop, waved him across. Hit the cross beam, didn't hit the cross beam. You might be right, but it seems too radically different.
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    We have no trains in my area and I cant say how things are done in another state. I was taught years ago, close to 40 of them, that an MVA is technically under the PD control. But the PD in my area let us do our job, EMS does there thing and we all get along. So if the PD tell me to stop I stop but then that is what I was taught.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fitguy51 View Post
    We have no trains in my area and I cant say how things are done in another state. I was taught years ago, close to 40 of them, that an MVA is technically under the PD control. But the PD in my area let us do our job, EMS does there thing and we all get along. So if the PD tell me to stop I stop but then that is what I was taught.
    That varies from state-to-state.

    In New Hampshire, by state law, the fire department owns the scene is there is personal injury, fire, risk of fire, or hazmat.

    Overall, I'm with George on this one. Someone is lying. "The gate was up/the gate was down" isn't really subject to a whole lot of interpretation.

    I suspect it was down. And so I'd side with the cop. At least until he tried to decide what was "needed", which is beyond his expertise.
    Last edited by NewHampshireFF; 07-09-2009 at 07:08 PM.

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    Post And............

    Couple of things.......... 343 gave a very good outline of how things look from a Railroader's point of view, except one tiny item. If the Train that struck the car was stopped within the "Block" or area covered by the Crossing's automatic signaling equipment, then the Track Circuit would show a Train present and continue to operate any Lights, Gates, and/or Bells. Chris - Rebuttal??.......

    And, as I seem to be repeating a lot here lately, We don't have these problems in Maryland. The PD is in possession of the Scene when we give it to them, not before. The FD/VFD is in charge of anything that relates to Injuries, Fires, Hazmats, etc. Having said that, we have an outstanding relationship with our Police agencies, and everyone works together.
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    Somebody need to have the captain watch this

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?do...53076032901123

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    Quote Originally Posted by hwoods View Post
    Couple of things.......... 343 gave a very good outline of how things look from a Railroader's point of view, except one tiny item. If the Train that struck the car was stopped within the "Block" or area covered by the Crossing's automatic signaling equipment, then the Track Circuit would show a Train present and continue to operate any Lights, Gates, and/or Bells. Chris - Rebuttal??.......
    Without knowing the exact details (where the train was stopped, are there multiple over-lapping crossings, speed authorized, actual speed of the train, braking distance, etc) there might be a few hangups with the crossing signals.

    Things get a little different when you're dealing with high speed passenger, versus 59 MPH freight. When you've got high speed passenger circuits, the overlaps between them become increasingly long. Without getting into the nitty gritty of it, there are a limited amount of signaling frequencies that are used for grade crossing approach and island circuits. So in an area where there are multiple crossings, things can be different.

    Dissecting your average crossing, you'll have an "approach circuit" on either side, and an island that's immediately in the area surrounding the crossing. If the train doesn't make it from the approach to the island in "X" amount of time, some crossings will shut off because the it sees that the train is stopped. As soon as it transitions from the approach into the island, the crossing re-activates. To throw another wrench into the mix, you can stop a train on the island, and if the crossings circuitry tells that the train is stopped, it can re-open the gates.

    What makes me wonder is about the "Conductor" that was on the ground at the accident. No (rules abiding, liability respecting) conductor will flag a crossing with or without a train approaching unless they have absolute control of that track. The likely hood of the trains conductor to have the authority on the second main track is absolutely zero in this case. Conductors are not allowed to have "authority" for more then one train.

    Either it was a short train (passenger, small local freight -- 8 to 10 cars etc) or there was a large delay somewhere along the time line that allowed the railroad conductor to proceed back to the scene of the crash. They wouldn't be backing up the train until a full inspection was done, so the conductor would be walking on the ground. Even a 10 car freight at 40 miles per hour takes a large distance to slow down and come to a safe stop -- even if the engineer puts it into "emergency" and dumps the air.

    Upon any railroad emergency, the train crew is required to immediately before taking any other action other then life-safety measures required to notify the train dispatcher of the location and description of the incident. The dispatchers then notify any other train crews that may be approaching or in the area of the incident of what to expect. A railroad dispatcher once having given authority to a train cannot (well, there's a few ways, but we'll keep it simple) take that authority back without first asking if a train can safely comply with an updated mandate or change of authority. The second train may have not been in a position (both physically and according to operating rules) to stop the train before the accident, and needed to continue by for a myriad of reasons.

    As a conductor, I'm responsible for the safe operation of my train. The engineer is there to operate the locomotives, but in the end, what he does still falls under my job as conductor. When I'm operating a locomotive, the conductor is in charge of me. Similar to a Chauffeur and Company Officer. As such, when I have struck something fouling the tracks, my responsibility is to ensure the safety of the railroad. Flagging a vehicle across the tracks when I do not have the authority to foul and occupy another main track is negligent on my part, because that piece of railroad is not in my possession. I'd be curious to see if it was actually the "Conductor" flagging vehicles across, because that's a huge liability for himself and the railroad. Not to mention, he's acting out of craft and the MOW union will make a killing if they find out (And they will )

    Anyways - I've seen some funky things with crossings, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was tripped after the crash with nothing occupying the circuit.
    Quote Originally Posted by ThNozzleMan
    Why? Because we are firemen. We are decent human beings. We would be compelled by the overwhelming impulse to save an innocent child from a tragic, painful death because in the end, we are MEN.

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    I've been to dozens of ball games at TD Bank Ballpark where this occurred. There is a station very close to this intersection. The article doesn't say what time of the morning this happened, but if it was during the work day, it is highly likely that there were other trains coming in the opposite direction. That is a very busy line.
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    does anybody know what intersection this happened at? theres alot of crossing by the ballpark and in boundbrook. not that it matters much, just curious to which one- some have alot of visability some have none.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SIMP0LMAN View Post
    does anybody know what intersection this happened at? theres alot of crossing by the ballpark and in boundbrook. not that it matters much, just curious to which one- some have alot of visability some have none.
    As far as I know, the only crossing near the ballpark is the one on the road going back into the industrial park. There is another much further down in a residential area, but that would not be considered near the ballpark.
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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeWendtCFI View Post
    As far as I know, the only crossing near the ballpark is the one on the road going back into the industrial park. There is another much further down in a residential area, but that would not be considered near the ballpark.
    I was thinking of some of the crossings in boundbrook and middlesex, but like you said that wouldnt be by the ballpark then. wish the gates would drop for us when riding our quads along side the tracks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeWendtCFI View Post
    ...2. A train v. car in NJ is a crime scene, every time, under the jurisdiction of NJ Transit police. Bridgewater PD was the initial responder and would not, ultimately, be in charge of the scene. Let me repeat. This was a crime scene...
    Having dealt with multiple incidents involving trains and vehicles....George is right again. NJ Transit is in charge. It is their property, their scene. You can come up with whatever story/complaint/arguement you want....and you will lose. It is theirs.

    Again, a very good example of why you should meet with these people ahead of time and work together.
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    Again, a very good example of why you should meet with these people ahead of time and work together.
    NJ Transit PD folks are alot easier to deal with than NJSP.
    PROUD, HONORED AND HUMBLED RECIPIENT OF THE PURPLE HYDRANT AWARD - 10/2007.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GeorgeWendtCFI View Post
    NJ Transit PD folks are alot easier to deal with than NJSP.
    Yeah until you steal their bus and hide it in your firehouse.

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