While working an early morning fire involving three parked road trailers, (two being used as storage and one being a tanker with unknown contents) and all three coupled to road tractors, our 2500 gallon 1999 Pierce Dash tanker was involved in a minor “accident”. Our company was dispatched, to a truck stop where numerous fuel pumps, a conveinience store, self storage facility, numerous truck repair facilities and a trucking company are located on this small piece of property, for a tractor-trailer fire. Shortly after dispatch we were advised the vehicle now turned out to be a multiple assortment of tractor trailers near the building or buildings and the fuel pumps. The assignment was upgraded from single engine to building assignment, which broght AUTOMATIC mutual aid from three counties to include two additional tankers a foam engine and a ladder tower since ours is in wisconsin for aerial replacement. A volunteer captain went on scene first confirming dispatch information and adding that there were several explosions occuring simultaniously. Our engine arrived shortly thereafter dropping LDH for the tanker and hit the fire with their wagon pipe. As lines were being deployed and water ran low I arrived in the tanker. We hooked up to a 4″ discharge on the panel and charged the engine’s line. At the same time we deployed the 3000 gallon port-a-tank. The next engine arrived at that time and set up drafting operations and I left for a water source.
The water source would be two hydrants at a nearby power generating facility. Those hydrants each are capable of putting out well over 1000 gpm. They were put there especially for the fire department to use when a fire occurs in that area. As a matter of fact there are signs that state “Fire Department Use only”. This fill site is located about 2 miles from the fire scene which was near a very buisy divided 4 lane primary state highway with numerous cross overs. The plan was to have all water supply units shuttle water to and from this fill site to the fire scene using a manifold to fill multiple tankers at once. There is an elementary school across the street with several very good hydrants but school would be starting shortly so we elected to use a road that even though buisy there would be no buses or children to be concerned about.
As I returned with a load of water I had to go from the westbound lanes over the east bound lanes to the fire scene and the drop site. as I approached the light which was green for me I was in the “fast lane” leaving the left turn lane open so I could make my turn (all emergency lights and sirens were operating) when a car came speeding by in the left turn lane through the intersection across the grass and back onto the roadway. She never took the phone from her ear! In my bewilderment I rolled past the crossover. Knowing this stretch of road I went about another half mile to the next crossover. I did notice that traffic was well behind me at this point after what they just saw. Not wanting a repeat, I straddled the center line and made sure my left turn signal was activated as well as all my emergency lights and sirens. I went from the middle of the road to the left and then eased over to the right lane. Just as I started my turn to make my U-turn from the right lane I heard a loud “noise” and noticed a car spinning across the road in front of me from right to left and ended up in the crossover upright. At that point I knew I had been hit. I first stopped the tanker from a speed of about 10mph and checked on the occupants who were an elderly couple. They were both fine and I asked a bystander to stay with them while I called it in. I then notified communications the tanker was out of service as I had been involved in an auto accident that only required the police and the fire chief and there were no injuries. After the radio call several people approached me to check on our well being and stated they could not believe what they just saw. I took their personal information and they all agreed to give state police written statements.
After a short investigation by the state police he was written several tickets. What happened was this: I was in the right travel lane attempting to make a wide u-turn. After what motorists saw previously and seing the fire as they drove by they knew what I was trying to do. After checking several times in my mirrors I saw that traffic had complteley stopped. This guy comes down the shoulder of the road (IN THE GRASS !!!) to pass everybody on the right side and when he tried to go by the tanker, he ran out of shoulder. He clipped the extended front bumper between his front and rear door causing him to spin out into the median. This stretch of road extends the entire length of our county and at no place whatsoever are the lanes seperated by more than a grassy median. There are no trees or hills or anything. The spot where I was trying to turn has about a 2 mile straight away. The front bumper was pulled out causing about $6,000 damage. The whole side of the Chrysle PT Cruiser was caved in. No disciplinary action was taken by the fire department towards the driver of the tanker. State Police officials as well as county officials and witnesses stated the driver of the small car was at fault.
Be that as it may the driver of the large tandem axle tanker, who is a tractor-trailer driver by trade, and has been in the fire service for 24 years (20 of those driving) was very emotionally distraught over what had just occured. It was’nt only the damage to the tanker( that appeared to be minor) but what could have happened to the driver of the small car. All I could think about after the incident was what would have happened if the car went UNDER the truck instead of bouncing off of it? And what legal actions if any would have come from it? Lesson learned…..KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN FOR ANYTHING! Even though we try to do things correctly and safely there are alsways people that need us to pay attention for them.