It was unusually wet and foggy at milepost 332 on Interstate 80 in Wyoming on Aug. 19, 2004. Not one member of the Laramie Fire Department (LFD) was surprised when at 10:37 on that Thursday morning the primary ambulance (MS144) was dispatched to that area, 16 miles to the east, for a multi-vehicle...
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It was unusually wet and foggy at milepost 332 on Interstate 80 in Wyoming on Aug. 19, 2004. Not one member of the Laramie Fire Department (LFD) was surprised when at 10:37 on that Thursday morning the primary ambulance (MS144) was dispatched to that area, 16 miles to the east, for a multi-vehicle collision.
What the firefighters didn’t know was that they were about to become involved in what has been described as the “largest incident ever handled in Wyoming.”
Interstate 80 cuts across the bottom half of Albany County and is included in the 2,400-square-mile fire and 4,400-square-mile EMS response area of the LFD. At 10:49, 10 minutes before MS144 arrived on scene, a call came in for Engine 4 – the first-run extrication unit – as dispatch was now receiving reports that several vehicles were on fire, with trapped occupants, and explosions could be heard coming from the area of the burning vehicles. While enroute, Engine 4 ordered that a sand truck and a 3,000-gallon city water tanker be dispatched.
When MS144 arrived at 10:59, Firefighter/EMT Kevin Lam took command and requested two additional ambulances from Laramie. Lam counted eight passenger vehicles, six tractor-trailer trucks and two motorcycles involved in the collision. Four of the passenger vehicles and all six of the tractor-trailers were involved in fire.
Firefighter/EMT Jeff Giustino was assigned triage. While performing triage, Giustino was notified by a bystander that a person was trapped in one of the tractors that was on fire. As he was locating an access point into the cab, Giustino noticed that a tow truck driver had hooked up to the tractor-trailer and was attempting to pull it away from the wreckage. Seeing that his action would have severely injured the trapped driver, Giustino stopped the tow truck driver and squeezed his six-foot, four-inch, 265-pound body into the flame-impinged cab, pulling the driver to safety. This action resulted in Giustino singeing his own hair and mustache. Lam continued with triage and accounted for 17 people who needed EMS transport. He then requested additional ambulance support to be dispatched from the city of Cheyenne, 29 miles east of the wreck.
Photo by Tim Chestnut
An uninjured victim watches a trailer burn.
Laramie Engine 4, a quad with a 1,000-gallon tank and a three-person crew, (Company Officer Ann Pond, Equipment Operator Chuck Hensala and Firefighter Matt Stroot) arrived on scene at 11:11. Upon arrival, the crewmembers of Engine 4 had a 180-degree view of the wreck: to the north they saw four passenger vehicles in the median fully involved in fire; directly in front of them on the interstate they could distinguish five tractors partially involved in fire and four trailers fully involved in fire, and to the south on the shoulder there was one passenger car damaged, but not on fire, and one damaged horse trailer with a propane tank attached.
Numerous Vehicles Involved
It was later determined five tractors, eight trailers and eight loads were involved in the fire along with the passenger vehicles. Conditions at this time were heavy fog, no wind or rain, heavy black and gray smoke and extensive flames. Contact was made with Giustino, who reported the trapped driver had been extricated and that he was unaware of any other trapped victims.