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A Firefighter's Account of the June 11 Tractor Trailer Fire on I-84

A truck filled with paper caught on fire and Lt. James Redway tells the tale.

 

The following account was written by Middlebury Volunteer Fire Department Lt. James Redway and was published on the MVFD website.

A tractor-trailer truck left the roadway late Monday night, crashed through the guardrails, and plunged down a steep 100 foot embankment, where it burst into flames.

I was the officer on Engine 3. When we arrived, the driver was already out of his cab and was being treated by Middlebury EMS personnel. There were two fires going; one from a saddle tank that had been torn from the truck as it collided with trees on the west side of the scene, and the other from the engine compartment on the east side of the scene. The vehicle was fully involved.

My crew pulled a handline and moved down the steep embankment to extinguish the fire on the east side. I showed off my acrobatic skills when I stepped into a hole and launched myself into the air, traveling head over heels and resembling an unskilled gymnast attempting a poorly performed Olympic-style floor routine.

After gathering my composure and what was left of my dignity, we continued down the embankment and our team quickly knocked down the fire on the east side, while other FD crews knocked down the fire on the west side.

The truck was torn apart, and the massive load of paper it carried had shifted forward creating a small mountain of smoldering paper and twisted debris, right smack in the middle of a muddy swamp.  Spot fires kept emerging in small pockets, and it became blatantly obvious that the fire was going to be difficult to completely extinguish quickly.

Chief Paul Perrotti ordered the aerial ladder placed into position to provide lighting. The ladder was maneuvered between all the thick trees and branches, and did an excellent job in illuminating the entire scene. 

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The decision was made to deploy the 2 1/2 inch hoseline and apply foam to the smoldering pile. Operating the charged 2 1/2 line was not an easy task since firefighters had to negotiate the charged hoseline through heavy, 12 inch deep mud. When we exhausted the foam, we switched to a straight stream and raised the pump pressure to really penetrate the pile. Chief Perrotti made holding the hose easier when he decided to hand-hewn a tree stump, rendering it into a dandy master stream appliance. After dumping hundreds of gallons of water on the pile of debris, we called it a night.

The MVFD packed up all the equipment except for 4 lengths of 2 1/2 inch hose that were covered with thick mud.  Back at Fire Headquarters we cleaned, and repacked hose beds, filled water tanks, refilled SCBA bottles, and cleaned the apparatus and equipment used.  Most firefighters returned to their homes approximately 3:30 a.m. this morning [the morning of Tuesday, June 12].

Today [June 11], we return to the scene to check on the fire and to retrieve the four lengths of hoseline left behind.  State officials, DEP, and a wrecking crew were on scene. Only a few small pockets of light smoke could be visible. Our narrow path down to the truck was no longer visible since 'certified' state tree crews had clear-cut the entire area and the wrecking company was attempting to remove the vehicle.

The fire suppression operation was well executed.  Dragging heavy hoseline through 12-inch thick mud at 2 a.m. was certainly a reminder that there is little that is glamorous about firefighting. Its tough, tiring and dirty work.

~ Lt. Jim Redway

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