Texas Firefighter Critically Injured in Crash with Train

NEW SUMMERFIELD, Texas -- A volunteer firefighter clings to life after being critically injured when his fire truck collided with a cargo train near Goliad on Saturday.

Kenneth Hancock, 35, of New Summerfield, was en route to a large grass fire Saturday when the water tanker he was driving collided with a Union Pacific train at the intersection of Farm-to-Market Roads 2750 and 2064.

Texas Department of Public Safety trooper Eric Long said the accident occurred about 2 p.m.

"The railroad crossing lights were flashing and for whatever reason the firefighter struck the engine of the train as it was going through the crossing," he said at the scene.

New Summerfield Fire Chief Joe Nix said the firefighter was driving a water tanker for water support for a 200-plus-acre fire, which seven different fire departments responded to.

"We are a small department in a small community. When something like this happens it is like it has happened to your own family. They are my family," he said Saturday. "We are grieving and praying right now as a family and we want him to recover."

Hancock was airlifted from the scene and flown to East Texas Medical Center in Tyler. ETMC officials said Hancock was listed in critical condition Sunday.

Nix said he believed Hancock suffered multiple broken bones, but did not know what other injuries he may have.

"It's just really hard to tell, but he is lucky to be alive," he said.

As emergency crews cleared the wreckage, which was scattered over 25 yards, firefighters hugged and comforted each other at the scene.

A Union Pacific HAZMAT team from Hearne responded to the accident to clean up a fuel spill that occurred during the collision.

The accident left the intersection blocked for several hours.

John Whitsell, Troup volunteer firefighter, said the Saturday afternoon blaze scorched more than 200 acres and destroyed one mobile home, several smaller structures, and several vehicles and produced heavy smoke that was visible for miles.

Several firefighters battling the blaze were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion and one firefighter received first- and second-degree burns.

Bullard Fire Chief Keith Newburn said when he heard about the accident he immediately asked his department to contribute donations.

"We are taking up a donation as I am sure most of the departments are. Firefighters are a family and we have to take care of our own.

Newburn said he had been in communication with the Wild Land Firefighters' Association in Boise, Idaho, and the organization is going to pay Hancock's mortgage while he is recuperating.

Firefighters responded to the scene again Sunday after the fire rekindled and worried homeowners in the area.

Fire departments across the East Texas region were kept busy over the weekend as high winds pushed grass fires, which burned hundreds of acres.

© Tyler Morning Telegraph 2005