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Thread: Firefighters Hurt in California Crash

  1. #1
    Administrator Neil's Avatar
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    Firefighters Hurt in California Crash

    Firefighters Hurt in California Crash

    Updated: 10-02-2007 08:25:16 AM

    By STACIA GLENN, Staff Writer
    Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, CA)

    BIG BEAR LAKE - A U.S. Forest Service truck plunged off Highway 18 on Monday morning, tumbling nearly 300 feet down a mountainside before splitting in two. Eight firefighters were injured.

    The California Highway Patrol is still trying to figure out what caused the 9:50 a.m. accident. They have ruled out speeding and mechanical failure.

    The driver lost control of the white crew transport as it rounded a corner near the Arctic Circle, close to Big Bear Dam. The vehicle bounced off the guardrail, causing the driver to stomp on the brakes.

    More than 50 feet of wide black skid marks darted off the asphalt where the rig plowed through the rail, rolled onto its side and careened over the hillside.

    The impact ripped off the hood, which came to rest on a small ridge just below the highway. The cab split from the chassis as it came down the mountain, stopping upright against a tree.

    "It's not fatal, and that's what we're thankful for," said Tracey Martinez, spokeswoman for San Bernardino County Fire Department. "They're extremely lucky and very blessed they didn't receive major, major injuries."

    Two firefighters initially listed in serious condition were flown to Loma Linda University and Arrowhead Regional medical centers.

    One, who dislocated his shoulder, was sent home late Monday. The other, who suffered a dislocated pelvis, was expected to spend the night in the hospital.

    Six firefighters, including the driver, received minor injuries and were taken to Bear Valley Community Hospital. They were trying to help the CHP piece together what happened.

    The Heaps Peak crew, firefighters who rappel from a helicopter, was driving east on the 18 for their morning briefing when the vehicle went off the road, said Forest Service spokesman John Miller.

    The firefighters, who battled the recent Butler II blaze, were assigned to help mop up the area putting out spot fires.

    The fire started Sept. 14, and it scorched 14,039 acres and threatened 600 Fawnskin homes during its six-day run.

    Rescue crews responded immediately to Monday's crash, lifting the injured firefighters into a basket and pulling them up the mountain. One firefighter had to be pulled out of the vehicle.

    Worry was evident on firefighters' faces as they sought constant updates on the crew's injuries.

    "They're brothers and sisters, and we're all part of the same career," said county fire Capt. Mark Faulkner. "It's like one of our own going over the side."

    Several fire crews and CHP officers milled around the scene, eating McDonald's cheeseburgers while waiting for the wreckage to be pulled up. A hot-shot crew blazed a path, using a chain saw to cut down hazardous branches and shrubs.

    It took nearly two hours for an oversized red tow truck to drag the cab up the mountain, its roof scraping up against the dirt and rocks. All of the windows had been shattered, and the wheels were popped off.

    Firefighters took pictures on their camera phones.

    After the truck was pulled from the scratchy underbrush, a crew hiked down the mountain to retrieve the firefighters' personal effects.

    Rescue crews said this type of accident happens three or four times a year.

    "It's not an usual type of accident," said CHP Officer Gary Fernandez. "However, based on it being a loaded fire rig, that makes it very unusual."

    A Sig Alert from Snow Valley Road to the Big Bear Dam stayed in effect until 7 p.m., much to the chagrin of dozens of motorists. Many people leaned back in their seats and listened to tunes. Some wandered from car to car, chatting with friends and neighbors.

  2. #2
    Administrator Neil's Avatar
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    California Firefighters Recall Crash

    California Firefighters Recall Crash

    Updated: 10-03-2007 07:50:51 AM

    San Bernardino County Sun (California)

    COLTON - They survived a harrowing plunge off a mountain highway but still exuded the courage and strength associated with firefighters.

    The wheelchairs Miguel Lopez, 26, and Mark Smith, 25, were confined to at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center on Tuesday faded into the background when they spoke.

    The IVs still attached to their arms were hardly noticeable.

    Lopez and Smith are the only U.S. Forest Service firefighters still hospitalized after the eight-member crew's rig blasted through a guardrail on Highway 18 on Monday morning and dropped 400 feet down the steep, heavily wooded terrain.

    "The emotions of going upside down over and over again, it keeps going through my mind today," Lopez said. "It's amazing that we walked out of there alive."

    The firefighters were wheeled into the room by their girlfriends and mostly maintained light-hearted grins while recounting the terrifying episode.

    The California Highway Patrol is still investigating the cause of the accident, though they've ruled out speeding and mechanical failure.

    Lopez and Smith said they do not know what happened.

    They were headed to cut down hazardous trees in the 14,039-acre Butler II Fire area when they felt an impact, heard someone yell "Oh my God!" and then went into a free-fall.

    Both were seat belted into the crew compartment, which the medical center's chief of surgery said probably saved their lives.

    Doctors initially thought Lopez had dislocated or broken his pelvis.

    After several tests, they declared he had torn the labrum in his right shoulder.

    Smith dislocated his left shoulder and possibly suffered a fracture.

    "It's an experience I kind of want to forget," Smith said.

    The rig skidded about 100 feet, demolished the guardrail and dropped to a ledge 20 feet below the road, where the hood was ripped off.

    It then slid more than 100 feet down the hillside before the crew compartment broke off from the chassis, finally coming to rest against a pine tree.

    The rig then to split into two and continued to fall.

    Being professionals, the firefighters immediately did a head count and asked about injuries.

    Then they busted out the windows that were still intact and crawled out.

    After calling 9-1-1, a crew member passed his cell phone around so others could call their loved ones and assure them they were safe.

    Lopez said his brush with death has been a reminder to tell his loved ones how much he cares on a regular basis.

    "You never know. You might go to work but you might not come home that night," he said.$56620

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