Firefighters from several departments pooled personnel, equipment, engines and water to fight a fire resulting from a crash on Rt. 58 Friday.
Squads work together to avert catastrophe
Teamwork by first responders, firefighters and other agencies averted a disaster when a recreational vehicle hauling a trailer and race car crashed at the foot of Lovers' Leap Mountain Friday night and caught fire.
As it was, three occupants were injured, valuable equipment was destroyed, and Rt. 58 was blocked for more than six hours, according to Lt. Clint Weidhaas of the Stuart Volunteer Fire Department.
The Stuart department (Company 26) was dispatched at 11:33 p.m. on July 17 for a single-vehicle crash on Rt. 58 at the foot of the mountain involving a 32' recreational vehicle hauling a 20' enclosed trailer loaded with a race car, race tires, tools, and approximately 10 to 15 gallons of gas, Weidhaas said.
After investigation, it appeared the vehicle brakes became defective, causing the driver to lose control and the vehicle to crash, Weidhaas said. As a result, the brake system caught fire.
The fire originated at the rear of the vehicle and rapidly spread to the trailer, causing the contents to catch fire also. Stuart VFD initially responded with one rescue engine, Unit 2612, and four personnel.
When the firefighters arrived, the scene was "sized up" and it was determined additional help was needed, Weidhaas said. An additional engine and personnel from Company 26 responded.
An aggressive fire attack was initiated on the trailer after the driver said there were cans of gasoline inside.
Meanwhile, an additional engine, Unit 2611, arrived five to seven minutes later from Stuart VFD. The jaws of life were used to gain access through a locked side-door of the trailer to extinguish the fire before the gas ignited.
This was accomplished due to the quick actions of the five members on scene and "an aggressive fire attack conducted in a safe manner," Weidhaas said.
Stuart VFD requested additional fire tankers and personnel from Company 25, Meadows of Dan VFD, and Company 23, Patrick Springs VFD. Shortly after this request, Stuart VFD requested Company 24, Woolwine VFD, for an additional tanker and personnel as well.
The fire to the vehicle was quickly extinguished but was very difficult to clean up due to the condition of the vehicle. Fortunately, no fire personnel were injured during this operation.
Approximately 8,700 gallons of water were used to extinguish the fire. Due to the severity of the incident, the type of vehicle involved, the enclosed trailer and the weather conditions, a significant number of personnel were needed to extinguish the blaze.
"The recreational vehicle had propane gas on board along with diesel fuel which can make this type of vehicle fire extremely dangerous to first responders," Weidhaas said. "Not only was the vehicle a hazard, additional hazards were present due to the enclosed trailer containing flammable material along with various items used for racing sports, Weidhaas said.
He said the racing team was apparently a family operation heading to a Virginia International Racing (VIR) event.
Weidhaas estimated the damage at between $60,000 and $70,000.
The Stuart VFD had 13 members respond, which is exceptional for a weekend call, Weidhaas said. Steve Allen and Lemont Bryant of the Patrick County Emergency Management Department also responded. There were approximately 30 total personnel on scene.
J.E.B. Stuart Rescue Squad responded with two units and transported the driver and two other injured occupants.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) responded to assist with road closure, which lasted from 11:30 p.m. Friday night through 6 a.m. Saturday morning.
The Patrick County Sheriff's Department responded, as well as the Virginia State Police, who investigated the crash. Jolly's Towing completed the clean-up of the vehicle and trailer.
"This incident was accomplished as well as it could have been for the conditions present such as the time of night, a lack of fire hydrants in the area for an immediate water supply, and limited access due to the narrow roadway," Weidhaas said. "The fact that all the responders worked together diligently and quickly is a testament to our fire and rescue personnel in Patrick County.
"It is imperative that we work together as a team and involve as many departments as needed and not be afraid to call for additional help for incidents when we have a limited water supply and manpower," Weidhaas said. "You can always turn them around. You can't make up the minutes lost waiting for help when you realize you need it."