B.C. department learns from devastating crash: Recommends keeping meticulous maintenance records
By Steven Sorensen
By Steven Sorensen
|PHOTO COURTESY STEVE SORENSEN
The 17-year-old female occupant of a Honda CRX was killed when the car impacted with the Sooke Fire Department’s heavy rescue vehicle on a rain-slicked curve just 300 metres from the fire station.
When members of the fire service are paged to attend to motor vehicle accidents it’s usually just another day on the job. But when members of the Sooke Fire Department were paged to an accident just 300 metres from their own station, the scene that met them was anything but routine. Oct. 6, 2006, was a typical fall day in Sooke, B.C. The morning skies were overcast and a light rain was falling – the first rain to fall after a very long dry spell.
Capt. Matt Barney was returning to Station 1 from Station 2 with the Sooke Fire Department’s heavy rescue truck for some regular maintenance work. He was about 300 metres from the fire station when a white Honda CRX suddenly crossed the centre line, skidding towards him.
Braking quickly and swerving the rescue truck to the right could not prevent the collision. The little sports car was no match for the heavy fire truck as the passenger side of the car impacted with the extended front bumper.
Fire Chief Bob Kelsey was following the truck back to the fire station and witnessed the crash. He immediately placed a call for assistance. Other members of the fire department, along with the RCMP and a provincial ambulance crew, were quickly on scene to extricate the 17-year-old female driver of the Honda.
Unfortunately, the popular teenager, who was on her way to classes at the local high school, was killed instantly in the crash. Uninjured but obviously very shaken, Capt. Barney was removed from the scene. The force of the crash completely destroyed the Honda. The impact forced the passenger side of the car through to the driver’s side, leaving the car only about 18 inches wide at the driver’s seat. The box of the heavy rescue truck slid forward on the chassis and impacted the back of the cab, buckling the doors. The frame of the truck was protruding about six inches out the back of the rescue body. The steering in the truck was also broken. It was later determined that the car was travelling about 70 km/hr and the rescue truck was going between 40 and 45 km/hr when the crash occurred. The speed limit on this section of road is 50 km/hr.
The investigation was extensive and exhaustive. The road was immediately closed and detours were set up. This closure was in place for almost seven hours while several agencies investigated, including: • Local RCMP
• RCMP traffic analysts
• Coroner • Provincial highways engineers
• Provincial commercial motor vehicle inspectors
• Workers Compensation Board
Some of the items investigated by these agencies included:
• Capt. Barney’s driving record and his driver training records;
• Weekly vehicle inspection trip reports and vehicle log. (The Sooke Volunteer Fire Department completes a weekly vehicle and air-brake inspection on all apparatus at the beginning of each weekly training session.);
• All vehicle maintenance records;
• The truck was weighed to ensure it was not overloaded;
• Analysis of the accident scene;
• Mechanical inspection of both vehicles involved.
|PHOTOS COURTESY STEVE SORENSEN
The fire captain was cleared of any wrongdoing in the October 2006 accident but the crash caused the department to look more carefully at its record keeping and rules and regulations governing its vehicles.
As a result of this tragic accident, the department learned a number of vital lessons.
• A certified driver training program is essential.
• Maintenance records of all vehicles must be kept and stored.
• Pre- or post-trip reports must be completed on all apparatus.
• Annual provincial motor vehicle inspections must be completed.
• We learned that most fire apparatus are overweight for the roads. While the SFD vehicles are not overweight on their axle ratings, some of the units are overweight for B.C. roads. This is especially true for pumper trucks with large-capacity water tanks. We found that all three of our pumper trucks (each with a 1,000-gallon tank) are overweight. We have since obtained overweight permits from the provincial commercial vehicle inspectors who were very helpful after this incident. Fortunately the rescue truck was not found to be overweight or this could have had serious repercussions for the fire department and municipality.
• This can happen to any one at any time.
• Vehicle checks and maintenance records DO NOT COUNT if they are not documented and records maintained.
The final investigation determined that Capt. Barney was not at fault for the accident. According to the accident report, the young driver, with little driving experience, was going too fast for road conditions and was unable to overcome the skid as she rounded the corner where the incident occurred.
The fire department and municipality were also found to be not at fault due in large part to our driver-training program, maintenance program and record keeping. Even the teen’s family took the time to call Capt. Barney, offer their sympathies and let him know that they did not blame him for the accident.
Steve Sorensen is the deputy fire chief in Sooke, British Columbia.