Monday, March 30, 2009

Numerous injuries reported in crash of Houston firetrucks

This could have been a lot worse than it was. Thank goodness no one was killed. I saw it on Fox News. It isn't often Houston makes the big time news. Except when stealing is going on.

Eleven people were injured today, one of them critically, after two Houston Fire Department trucks collided in the Montrose area as they were responding to a fire alarm.

The injured included nine firefighters, but Assistant Chief Omero Longoria said their injuries are not life-threatening.

One of the trucks flipped onto a car and also struck a bicyclist after the initial collision in the 2600 block of Dunlavy at Westheimer. The bicyclist, a woman whose name has not been disclosed, is listed in critical condition at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

The trucks were responding to a report of a possible fire in the 2100 block of San Felipe, but other firefighters later determined that there was no fire, said District Chief Tommy Dowdy.

"A lot of injuries are caused by responding to alarms," Longoria said. "The job doesn't start when you get to the location. It starts when you get on the truck. It's a dangerous job."

Dowdy said the five firefighters who were taken to St. Joseph Medical Center downtown will be released after treatment.

One firefighter was admitted to Ben Taub General Hospital in stable condition, Dowdy said, while one also was admitted in stable condition at Memorial Hermann and two others were to be released.

The other injured civilian, a woman who was in the car, was expected to be released after treatment at Methodist Hospital, Dowdy said. She is a 48-year-old Bellaire resident.

Mayor Bill White went to the hospitals to check on the injured.

The crash, at 10:48 a.m., involved trucks from fire stations 7 and 16. One of the firefighters was thrown from a truck, Dowdy said.

The ladder truck was northbound on Dunlavy and the pumper truck was heading west on Westheimer, Dowdy said. The pumper truck struck the rear of the ladder truck from the side and the ladder truck rolled onto the front half of a white Infiniti sedan.

"Whoever has the green light has the right-of-way," Dowdy said. "We don't know who had the green light."

He added that no skid marks were found at the site. The pumper was filled with 500 gallons of water, Dowdy said, but it is equipped with brakes that are made to stop it in such situations.

Bernard Proctor, who witnessed the accident, said he heard a loud boom when the firetrucks collided, then a sharp crack when one of the trucks struck a utility pole on the corner.

"It was the loudest sound I ever heard," Proctor said. "It was crazy."

Mario Casas, who works in a boutique at the intersection, said he saw the trucks collide and ran outside to help. Sparks were flying from cables that came down with the utility pole, he said.

Casas, 23, said he saw a passerby pulling the bicyclist from under the overturned ladder truck.

``I saw the lady. I thought she was dead, but she was breathing,'' he said.

Casas added that several other people from nearby businesses ran to the crash site to help the injured.

Glenn Stanton, a 53-year-old retired restaurateur who lives nearby, heard the crash.

"Our house is about a half a block away and maybe a little more and the impact shook the house," Stanton said. "The sirens were nonstop and the power went out immediately."

He said he went outside and saw the ladder truck from Station 16 lying atop the car in front of Café Brasil.

"It's quite gruesome just to see the fire engine on its side, its wheels in the air like that," Stanton said. "Its wheels are horizontal and the cab is up on the curb and hit a (utility) pole, so all the power's out."

He said he helped direct traffic as police and firefighters pushed onlookers back and swarmed the accident scene.

The Fire Department will pay other firefighters overtime to fill in while the injured crews are out of service, Dowdy said.

The pumper, which weighs about 40,000 pounds, is about a year old and cost about $400,000, Dowdy said. He said the ladder truck, which weighs about 80,000 pounds, cost about $800,000 and has been in service for about six months.

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