This past Thursday evening saw the devastating loss of a fire lieutenant while his crew was severly injured due to a major accident on I-295. From what I understand, the engine crew was dealing with a motor vehicle accident in the midst of wind and rain from Tropical Storm Michael. The engine was struck by a tractor trailer, causing the death of the fire officer and injuries to the engine crew and truck driver. Firefighters are taught to mitigate hazards, whatever they are. The problem is that our interstates are death traps for police, fire, EMS and citizens who find themselves stopped for whatever reason. I wish I knew what it would take for drivers to slow down and move over when they see emergency vehicles operating ahead. Maybe it is time for state police to shut down interstates when accidents occur, no matter what the severity. It has been proven over and over that some drivers, and I would even say, most drivers, do not care about anyone else.
Authorities and local weather personnel said that if you absolutely did not have to be out, then you should have stayed home. I do not know why the people involved in the first accident were out, but they definitely did not get where they were going. What has to happen before the public will heed warnings to stay off of the roadways during these major weather events? If the first accident had not occurred, then the second accident would not have occurred. People who venture out during storms put themselves and emergency workers in harm’s way.
The chances are that resources were limited due to the prevailing storm. When I worked at Fire Station No. 1 during Hurricane Isabel, we ran 30 calls that day. The only reason that we did not run more was because we were trapped by falling trees on Lewis Road for about two hours. I do not know what resources were on the scene on I-295, but a catastrophic event occurred. I spent my last four years on two different truck companies. If we were not performing extrication, we were always the blocking unit, especially on the limited-access roadways like I-95, I-295 and Routes 288 and 150, to name a few. As the blocking unit, it was our responsibility to shut down whatever lanes were needed to provide the engine or ambulance crew a safe work space. Apparatus is expendable; lives are not. You may not believe how many close calls nearly occurred on our many trips to the interstate. To say that it was only a matter of time before this type of thing occurred is an understatement.
If you heard what I learned today about this crew, you would be even more heartbroken. Hanover Fire & EMS and the fire service suffered a tremendous loss: one fire officer did not get to go home from his shift that day. People drive like maniacs on our roadways, while firefighters, police officers and medics try to pick up the pieces when mayhem occurs. Who’s got their back when they are doing their jobs? It should be you and I, but most drive with one thing on their mind: getting where they want to go as fast as possible. Tractor trailer drivers should be the best drivers on the roadway, but accidents involving tractor trailers happen regularly. Whatever has to happen to ensure the safety of firefighters, police officers and medics must happen and happen quickly. The death of this fire officer and the injuries sustained by his crew are unacceptable. My nephew is a firefighter in Hanover. Hanover Fire & EMS is a great organization with great people. My heart is broken for them. We need to pray for the recovery of the injured firefighters, as well as the family of the officer who lost his life trying to protect others.