Connecticut Apparatus Struck - And Everyone Came Home

March 1, 2006

We have all been reading about tragic incidents where firefighters have been struck, injured or even killed. Odds are, each of you knows of someone who was struck on the scene of an emergency. It is not a rare occurrence. It could have happened in Manchester, CT, on Jan. 16, 2006.

This month's column is all about being proactive and countering the old "it-won't-happen-here" attitude. What is of particular interest is that the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) "Stand Down for Firefighter Safety" of 2005 played a clear role in this department's awareness and planning. Thanks to Manchester Fire Chief Robert S. Bycholski, Battalion Chiefs Heather Burford and Raymond Shedd, and Lieutenant Marc Lupacchino for their assistance with this column. Personnel operating at the scene that day included Lieutenants Charles Atzbach and Donald Farquhar, Firefighter/Paramedics Matthew Eberhardt, Michael Hoehn, Neil Prendergast and Craig Webb, and Firefighter/EMTs John Bieback, Brian Blaise, Dominic Cutaia, James Deere, Glenn Moule and Ronald Trinks. Why list their names here? Because if it weren't for this department's proactive thinking, we might be reading these names somewhere else.

When the "Stand Down for Firefighter Safety" was initiated last year, the Manchester Fire-Rescue-EMS Department (MFRE) immediately convened a committee to set the goals, activities and schedule of events. Highway/roadway safety became the central theme of the initiative after Farquhar, a 13-year veteran of the department, brought forth to the group a situation he had witnessed and which had bothered him for some time.

Several months earlier, Farquhar saw an engine company stretch an attack line over the raised grass median of a high-speed divided highway to suppress a vehicle fire in the opposite lanes of traffic. In the area of the fire there was absolutely no protection for the firefighters as they attacked the fire and tried to avoid traffic that was traveling very close to the scene. This situation motivated him to research highway/roadway response and develop a lesson plan to address the situation. During the Stand Down, the lesson plan was presented, new General Operating Guidelines (GOG) went into effect and the use of blocking apparatus and personal reflective vests were introduced.

Due to the motivation of a single individual, the follow-through from the committee and the willingness of the department members to embrace the new practice, the incident profiled this month had a positive outcome.

Fire Chief Robert S. Bychol-ski's account:

Dispatch notified me of an accident in which one of our apparatus was struck by a private passenger vehicle at the scene of another emergency incident. I was on scene 10 minutes later. I spoke first to the incident commander and immediately after to other responders. All were shaken up. All were in one piece. I took a look at the apparatus. It was severely damaged. I didn't care about that. "Today," I remember thinking, "is a day of validation."

It wasn't good fortune or dumb luck that Manchester Fire-Rescue-EMS personnel escaped injury or worse when a passenger vehicle slammed into one of our apparatus being used to "block" an emergency scene. It was a scripted event. Our written practice for working on roadways and highways is to use our apparatus to "block" and protect our members, other public safety and the customer. Our procedure on the subject, I believe, is a model and perfect example of risk management at its best.

A policy or practice is worthless as just words on pages of paper. It has to be embraced and practiced by the body to be of any value. Our members truly believe in the procedure on providing a safe working area at all roadway and highway incidents. We have buy-in because every level of the organization contributed in the development of the procedure. Everyone feels we take control of our own fate and destiny when we practice effective apparatus placement and follow stringent on-scene operational controls.

As fire chief, I couldn't be more thankful or proud of the way everything turned out for Manchester following this event. I will consider it a good day's work if our story results in one more fire department changing its attitude and practices on establishing a safe working area at all roadway and highway incidents. As traffic volume increases and roadway systems become more complex, we face a growing risk. "Never Trust the Traffic" is our motto. It should be the motto of every fire department.

Battalion Chief Raymond Shedd's account:

I was the shift commander that day. The shift is comprised of four lieutenants, five firefighter/paramedics and eight firefighter/EMTs or MRTs. It was at 3:48 P.M. that we received a dispatch to a reported motor vehicle rollover with the driver still in the vehicle on a cell phone. The accident was reported to be on Camp Meeting Road, a moderately traveled two-lane rural roadway on the southern outskirts of our community.

The initial dispatch was for two companies and me, giving the initial assignment a total of nine people. Given the information that the operator was still in the vehicle, I elected to add three more responders. The accident had occurred in Company 4's first-due response area in the southern quarter of town. Company 3 was second due to the incident and the Company 2 responded as the heavy rescue out of the center of town.

While enroute, all companies changed over to a second repeated radio channel to conduct operation upon arrival. As expected, Company 4 arrived and reported that they had a single vehicle on its side with no injuries or extrication needed. Based on that information, I downgraded the response back to the original two companies with the second arriving to continue non-emergency.

Upon my arrival, I observed an SUV on its driver side with the operator out of the vehicle being evaluated by the crew of Company 4. Company 4 had positioned their pumper beyond the incident in such a manner as to block the westbound lane from on-coming westbound traffic. Company 2 arrived and positioned the rescue prior to the incident so as to protect the westbound lane from oncoming eastbound traffic. As a matter of protocol, I established command. As there were no injuries and no immediate hazards, it was evident that we were going to settle into a standby mode until the local police department could take over the scene for vehicle removal.

As this road was moderately traveled, the Company 2 lieutenant and I positioned ourselves on the centerline to alternate eastbound and westbound traffic along the open eastbound lane. I was positioned by my vehicle and the lieutenant was positioned by the right rear corner of the tailboard of Engine/Medic 4 about 100 feet away. We found ourselves conducting traffic control for 10 or 15 minutes. At one point, I even radioed the marker plate of the vehicle in an effort to expedite the removal of the vehicle. It seemed as though everything was accounted for. The operator of the overturned vehicle was with Company 4 personnel, her boyfriend showed up to console her and traffic was responding well to our directions.

It was during a lull in traffic that I was looking at the lieutenant and saw a passenger car round the corner at a high rate of speed. The lieutenant also saw the vehicle. It was immediately evident to me that this was going to be a serious matter in very short order. All within a second, I felt myself glancing over to where I last saw the personnel from Companies 2 and 4. I glanced at the lieutenant, and simultaneously we shouted to the personnel of an incoming vehicle. Impact was so imminent to me that I found myself reaching for my radio lapel microphone even before the accident occurred.

It was if it were in slow motion. From my vantage point, I watched the car disappear behind the corner of the pumper traveling at the same rate of speed from when I first saw the vehicle. All that was left was to wait for impact. I watched the pumper rock and move sideways from the force of the impact. The sound of the impact came very shortly thereafter.

As any officer can appreciate, my immediate concern was for the welfare of the personnel. As I made my way toward the impact point, I found myself conducting a mental headcount as I prepared to radio for additional resources. Simultaneously, myself and the lieutenant who was closest to the point of impact attempted to radio for additional resources. The lieutenant radioed the following: "Fire Alarm from Tac/Medic 2, we have a second accident on Camp Meeting Road with fire apparatus involved, an ambulance and extrication needed." Fire Alarm (dispatch) confirmed the message with me. Based on the lieutenant's report, I specified a three-company response and gave specific instructions to each company upon their arrival. As a matter of protocol, I also requested notification to the fire chief.

I can't describe the overwhelming sense of relief that came with the headcount. At that point in time, nothing else mattered. However, I can attest to the degree of composure and professionalism exhibited by the crews on scene as they went right to work on the passenger of the vehicle that struck Engine/Medic 4 despite the shock of what just transpired. The lieutenant, who immediately took charge, provided me with a size-up. He stated that the patient was a priority two (potentially life threatening) and that no extrication was needed. Firefighters had gained access and were engaged in patient care. Firefighters were also engaged in vehicle stabilization and hazard control. Incoming resources were instructed to approach from opposite directions and completely close the road. Shortly thereafter, the patient was transported to a nearby trauma center and the fire chief arrived.

As the chief and I made our way around to assure the well-being of all personnel involved, we shared in relief, and were grateful. We were thinking the same thing - what could have been. As their shift commander, I found myself congratulating everyone for their actions. I was proud of each and every one. What could have been a major tragedy turned out to be bent metal and minor injuries. I'm grateful to the members of our department, especially those on Shift 4, for possessing those disciplines necessary to conduct safe and successful operations. I am fortunate that they respect and comply with operational guidelines such as apparatus placement for scene protection without direction. I'm grateful that no one was sitting around on the bumper or seated in the apparatus. I am fortunate to be able to say we experienced a safety success experience and proud to give all the credit to the members of those crews on scene that unforgettable day.

On inspection, there was major front-end damage to the passenger vehicle with airbag deployment. The pumper had been struck just in front of the front tire. The force of the impact moved the 40,000-pound pumper over eight feet, so much so that the wheel chocks that were placed at the driver front tire were positioned under the right front tire. Equipment and supplies in the cab remained in place.

Lieutenant Marc Lupacchino's account:

A winter storm had passed through the state the night before and dumped rain, sleet and snow; typical New England weather for this time of year. Driving conditions had improved throughout the day with the sunshine, but most of the roads still had hard-packed ice on them.

As the officer on Tac/Medic 2, I recalled a conversation with another firefighter about a previous MVA on the same road in the same area. He stated to me, "If anything comes in for Camp Meeting Road, it can't be good." I tucked away that thought.

Engine/Medic 4 was first due to the accident and the station was located 1.5 miles from the scene. A short run for them, a longer run for us as we were responding from headquarters which is located in the center of town. They arrived and gave an initial size-up with a vehicle on its side with the driver still inside, but didn't appear to be injured. The vehicle was traveling eastbound and ended up on the shoulder of the westbound lane.

As Tac/Medic 2 arrived, we could see that Engine/Medic 4 had parked beyond the accident, across the westbound lane as the blocking apparatus, protecting the scene from oncoming traffic. This practice was in accordance with the department's General Operating Guideline. Tac/Medic 2 was positioned across the westbound lane just prior to the accident to box in the work area. The shift commander positioned his vehicle away behind Tac/Medic 2.

The driver was able to self-extricate with the assistance of Engine/Medic 4's crew. The driver stated she was not injured. Tac/Medic 2's crew made an assessment and found no hazards with the vehicle itself; the vehicle was very stable in the position in which it landed. While we were on scene, a friend of the woman arrived to see if she was alright, which now placed him inside the work zone as both remained a safe distance from the overturned vehicle.

At this point, I realized that traffic was backing up in both directions and no police were on the scene. Working with the shift commander, I directed traffic around the accident scene. The shift commander was positioned to the west and I was positioned to the east. Some traffic was diverted and we allowed some traffic to pass by the scene. The road was wide enough and crews were out of the way, but someone needed to be at either end to maintain traffic. This was done for quite some time while we awaited a wrecker to right the vehicle.

I was standing to the rear of Engine/Medic 4 and looking west; the sun glare was brutal. I could just make out the shift commander standing in the roadway. At this position, I could monitor the crews and the traffic coming from the east. There was a lull in the traffic; no cars waiting in line, no cars going down Finley Street, no cars anywhere.

As I looked east, I noticed a four-door gray sedan come around a long, sweeping bend in the road heading west approaching the scene. This guy was hauling. I looked left to see where the crews were and looked right again and thought, "This guy's not stopping." I turned to the crews and yelled as loud as I could, "Incoming!" I stepped back and the car drove head-on into the right front passenger side of Engine/Medic 4. I looked at the driver. He raised his arm as if to scratch his head and both his arm and head dropped down. I thought he was dead. I then look back at the firefighters and see that they are still behind the blocking engine.

I went into an autopilot mode. I started walking toward the car, got on the radio and waited for the beep as I pushed the push-to-talk button. I didn't even hear the shift commander call Fire Alarm. I didn't know he saw the car coming too. "Fire Alarm from Tac/Medic 2, we have a second accident on Camp Meeting Road with fire apparatus involved, an ambulance and extrication needed." An additional assignment was dispatched.

I met the paramedic assigned to Tac/Medic 2 at the driver's door and we manually pulled the door open. The paramedic assigned to Engine/Medic 4 assisted with patient care as I directed that the tactical unit be moved farther east to act as the blocking apparatus. The driver regained consciousness and I started carrying EMS gear for the paramedic as the rest of Engine/Medic 4's crew joined in on patient care and vehicle stabilization.

The driver of Engine/Medic 4 positioned the vehicle perfectly that day. We can sincerely say that by following our department guideline, all the crews walked away with no physical injuries.

These comments are based on Chief Goldfeder's observations and communications with the writers and others regarding this incident:

As often as we write about and read about tragic outcomes, this is a positive and refreshing change. So many departments are reluctant to send "too much" apparatus for a variety of reasons. And while unneeded apparatus can cause a problem, recognize that "needed" in this day and age includes scene safety, above and beyond dealing with patient care, fire and rescue services.

Need sample policies, procedures and guidelines? Take a few seconds and go to and then click to the SOP and SOG Section. You will find a downloadable copy of the Manchester Fire-Rescue-EMS Department's General Operating Guideline. You will also find some related SOPs and SOGs of value. Additionally, be sure to go to for other related information of value for roadway operations.

Other excellent online resources are available:

  • lists the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommended safety practices for personnel operating on roadways. is THE site dedicated to the protection of fire and EMS personnel on roadways. Download the section on SOPs., hosted by the IAFC and partnering with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System is a voluntary, confidential, non-punitive and secure reporting system with the goal of improving firefighter safety. By collecting and analyzing information on near-miss events, improvements can be made in fire and rescue operations and support. has information you can add to your training arsenal as well as a background on efforts the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation is taking to focus on preventing line-of-duty deaths.

By reading about related tragic incidents as well as incidents that resulted in positive outcomes, we honor those who have gone before us by making changes to reduce the numbers of "us" getting struck on the roadways. We must operate with the safe assumption that EVERY motorist is a raving, out-of-control lunatic who is planning to run us over. Now, with that thought, consider how your department operates on roadways.

William Goldfeder, EFO, a Firehouse contributing editor, is a 32-year veteran of the fire service. He is a deputy chief with the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, an ISO Class 2 and CAAS-accredited department. Goldfeder has been a chief officer since 1982, has served on numerous IAFC and NFPA committees, and is a past commissioner with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and is an active writer, speaker and instructor on fire service operational issues. Goldfeder and Gordon Graham host the free and noncommercial firefighter safety and survival website Goldfeder may be contacted at [email protected].


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