Tractor-trailer Collides With Bridge in Wisconsin

While dispatched as an accident scene on I-94, the closest access to the driver was from the upper level on the damaged section of bridge.


JOHNSON CREEK, WI --Mid afternoon Dec. 4 the Johnson Creek Fire & EMS Department was paged out to an accident involving a semi tractor-trailer which had collided with a bridge over I-94, a mile east of the village of Johnson Creek, Wis.

Officers of the Wisconsin State Patrol were on the scene first and, after calling for fire and EMS, immediately requested a towing service equipped to move and haul loaded semi trucks.

Emergency services faced a scene where a rig hauling a loaded refrigerated trailer left the westbound side of the highway to the north and ran parallel to the roadway for about 1000 feet. With indicators of little deceleration after leaving the pavement, it evidently shot up the embankment to impact the bridge abutment, killing the driver, crushing the cab and damaging the reinforced concrete bridge enough to close it for the season. In addition, the truck's fuel tanks were ruptured, sending significant amounts of diesel fuel streaming down to highway level.

While dispatched on I-94, the closest access to the driver was from the upper level on the damaged section of bridge. Tim Whitham, chief of the JCF&E, immediately diverted department ambulance 703 to head up Switzke Road, the township which uses the bridge to pass over I-94. Firefighters on Johnson Creek Engine 22 scrambled up from highway level with hand tools, then used ropes to haul extrication gear to the bridge deck. Whitham also the called Flight for Life med evac helicopter out of Milwaukee and requested mutual aid from the Lake Mills Fire Department.

Additionally, the Helenville Fire Department was called to set up a landing zone in a nearby church parking lot.

Johnson Creek EMTs found that the truck driver had succumbed to injuries sustained in the crash. The operation went from rescue to recovery and made use of the two heavy-duty tow trucks to stabilize, then pull the trailer and cab away from the bridge.

Fire and EMS personnel were on the scene four hours, well into mid-winter darkness with temperatures in the 20s. Traffic had been brought to a crawl with westbound traffic closed down to one lane. That condition remained for an additional five hours as the trailer's payload of wiper fluid was transferred to another semi and the damaged rig was removed. The Wisconsin State Patrol is investigating the crash.

Jefferson County Sheriff's Department personnel and their volunteer contingent provided traffic control. The Jefferson County Highway Department also supported the operation.

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