Monday's fire truck wreck being investigated

April 1, 2009 6:11:21 AM PDT
We have new information on that massive fire truck accident in the Montrose area Monday. [PHOTOS: See images from scene]

Two firefighters and a woman who was injured while riding on a bicycle remain in the hospital as the investigation into the cause of the crash continues.

Among the 11 people who were injured Monday is fire Captain Mike Mayfield. The captain is now listed as stable at Ben Taub Hospital. Also hurt is engineer operator Brian Edwards, who is in good condition at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

The most seriously injured victim is Leigh Boone, 29, a cyclist who was hit when the fire trucks collided. She's in critical condition at Memorial Hermann.

The trucks crashed at the intersection of Dunlavy and Westheimer around 11am, taking out a utility pole and landing on a sedan. A woman in a white Infiniti sedan, which was crushed in the accident, told Houston police the pumper truck which was on Dunlavy had the red light and the ladder truck which was on Westheimer had the green. That information is preliminary and police say it is not clear yet what caused the crash.

"I was inside my business and I was drawing a small dog when all of a sudden, I heard this violent impact," recalled witness Vanessa Avie. "Boom! You know, the lights went out."

Witness Bernard Proctor said, "All of a sudden, I seen trucks coming, one coming straight down Dunlavy and one coming across Westheimer, hit it, slid it over, hit the girl on the bike, flipped over on the car."

The crash took out a power pole, knocking out power to the neighborhood. The driver of the car that was trapped under the ladder truck was able to get out on her own, but witnesses say they were worried about Boone.

Avie said, "I understand a woman was hit on a bicycle. I didn't see the bicycle at all that ended up underneath the fire truck."

In the moments after it happened, bystanders were in shock. Some stood by in tears after seeing what happened to the firefighters and the two innocent bystanders.

The Houston Fire Department says both trucks were on the same call -- an apartment fire that ended up being a false alarm. While firefighters rush to every call, a fire department spokesman says Monday's accident was unexpected.

"This doesn't happen to us a lot," said HDF District Chief Tommy Dowdy. "We've seen things in other cities where fire trucks have crashed into each other. To my knowledge, this is the first time in Houston this has happened, where we've had a major incident with two fire trucks and it's unsettling."

The trucks came from stations 7 and 16. The accident totaled both the ladder truck and the pumper truck, worth about $1.2 million combined.

In all, nine firefighters and two civilians were transported to local hospitals with injuries.

The accident shut down the intersection for most of the day. Nearly six hours after the wreck, crews were able to right the overturned fire truck. CenterPoint Energy had to untangle the downed power lines from the wreckage before it could be cleared.

Houston police are looking into who's at fault and whether the Opticom system that speeds up the traffic light cycle for emergency vehicles was working properly.

Firefighters jump into action

Even before ambulance sirens filled the Medical Center, care for those hurt in the Montrose area accident started. As paramedics rushed the scene, uninjured firefighter relied on their EMS training and began treating others.

"They really shifted into their EMS role and started treating the civilians and the other firefighters," said Assistant Chief Omero Longoria with the Houston Fire Department.

"HFD is one big family, so when one of us is injured, the rest of us are here to support the family, the firefighters and we've seen that a lot today," said Persse.

HFD and city officials were on hand to support the families of the civilians in the crash. The driver of the car smashed by the fire truck was well enough to be released just hours after the accident.

"I hope all Houstonians will keep in their thoughts and prayers the firefighters and also the civilians, the residents, who were involved in this serious accident," said Houston Mayor Bill White.

The two firefighters still in the hospital are said to be in good condition. Houston police are looking into who's at fault and whether the Opticom system that speeds up the traffic light cycle for emergency vehicles was working properly.

Fire trucks were total loss

From the pictures on Eyewitness News, you could see the damage to both of the fire trucks. The Houston Fire Department say each is a total loss.

The cost of the ladder truck is roughly $800,000, and the pumper truck, which the primary purpose is putting water on a fire, is $400,000. We're told for now, the trucks will not be replaced, but the department does have reserve vehicles.

Montrose area miracle

Eyewitnesses say it's incredible the driver of the white sedan that was pinned by the overturned ladder truck was not much more seriously hurt.

Dr. Tinh Tran lives just down the street from where the incident happened. He says the driver of that Infiniti was trying to get out, working desperately to escape. So he sprang into action.

"She squeezed herself between the two front seats," he said. "She moved to the back and opened the left rear door and got out."

The woman was treated at a hospital, and released.

Looking back

It's been more than 50 years since the last serious fire truck collision in Houston. In July of 1953, two firefighters were killed when an engine truck and a ladder truck slammed into each other at Preston and Crawford.

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