Oct. 25--Water shifting in the tank of a fire engine may have caused the wreck that killed a volunteer firefighter driving it last week, according to a report by state troopers.
Oden Ridge volunteer firefighter and former Army Sgt. Jantzen Murrell Frazier, 28, was headed south on Wilson Mountain Road in south-central Morgan County to put out a fire when the engine ran off the road and overturned Oct. 17.
The investigating trooper said in the report he believed the shift of 3,000 gallons of water in the tank was the main reason Frazier lost control as he came out of a curve eastbound. Oden Ridge Fire Chief Jeff Duffey said the truck's capacity was actually 2,500 gallons, and it was full.
The trooper also reported he did not believe Frazier was speeding. The report estimated the engine was traveling at 35 mph in a 45 mph zone.
The truck left the right side of the road, overturned and struck a shallow culvert head wall and came to rest upright, the report said.
Frazier, the only person aboard, was killed instantly.
Frazier fetched the truck from the nearby fire station after seeing a neighbor's mobile home on fire, authorities said.
A spokesman for the state Fire Marshal's Office said investigators ruled the fire accidental.
"They're leaning toward electrical," public information officer Steve Holmes said. "It seems it started in the ceiling in the laundry room near the back door. In a mobile home, there's not a whole lot of attic space, so it appears to have started in the concealed area above the ceiling. ... We've eliminated any suspicion of foul play."
Duffey said he was relieved to learn that arson is not suspected.
"That finding in no way comforts us for the loss of Jantzen Frazier, but it comforts us to know that he died fighting a legitimate fire, and we're comforted to know that no one is responsible for his death," Duffey said.
Duffey said rollovers caused by water shifts are uncommon in modern trucks, and Engine 2, totaled in the crash, was made in 2009.
"That's typically an older truck, a homemade truck -- converted fuel trucks or milk trucks that may not have been baffled as well as they should have been," he said of trucks that roll over.
"(Engine 2) is baffled and cross-baffled in such a way that I've never felt the water move if it was full. ... That truck was safe as they come."
Duffey said after filling, a small space remains at the top of the tank.
"It's inches, so the water really has very little space to move in as long as the truck is kept full, which we do, because a half-empty fire truck is not much good when those tones go off," he said.
An article in this month's Fire Chief Magazine focusing on prevention of fire truck rollovers said National Fire Protection Association statistics show a significant proportion of firefighter injuries and deaths take place while responding to or returning from an emergency -- accounting for about 16 percent in 2011 -- and that a "notable proportion of fire-apparatus incidents involved vehicle rollover."
Some fire apparatus manufacturers use tilt tables to test firetrucks for weight and balance standards set by the NFPA, according to the article.
Decatur Fire and Rescue Lt. Trent Putman said manufacturers test trucks before selling them and provide documentation to the buyers.
While rollovers remain an issue, especially with top-heavy trucks such as tankers and ladder trucks, "That's not happening as often due to people buying more current trucks, trucks that were built for fire service duty," Putman said.
Putman said a gallon of water weighs more than eight pounds.
"Just the weight of the water alone is tremendous," he said. "All of them are made to carry that amount of weight, but it's still a lot of weight."
Frazier, a medically retired recipient of five Purple Hearts, a husband and father of four, was buried with military and firefighter honors Wednesday at Johnson Chapel Cemetery in Danville after his funeral service at First United Methodist Church in Hartselle.