CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Speed and a wet road led to a fire truck crash that killed two and injured three Kanawha County volunteer firefighters, according to a final investigative report.
The report, dated August 23, was compiled by the Fire Fighter Fatality and Investigation Program at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
The incident involved members of the Pratt Volunteer Fire Department, Rescue 111, which was on the way to a call March 24, 2018, on the West Virginia Turnpike.
The driver, Fire Chief Tim Walker , lost control of the large pumper truck on a wet road. According to the investigative report, the truck fishtailed and struck a rock outcropping along Paint Creek Road in eastern Kanawha County.
In addition to Walker, there were four other members of the fire department on board. They included Assistant Chief Mike Edwards, Lt. Tom Craigo, Firefighter Billy Hypes, and a 17-year-old junior firefighter. Edwards and Craigo were killed in the crash. Hypes, Chief Walker, and the junior firefighter were all injured.
The NIOSH Report concluded that contributing factors included excessive speed and a wet road.
Walker learned that victims of the accident that the crew was responding to were trapped, so he accelerated to about 55 miles an hour, the report stated.
“It was at this time, the fire chief started having difficulty controlling Rescue 111 due to the roadway being wet from earlier precipitation as well as the contour of the roadway,” the report stated.
The investigative report also noted the only one in the fire truck wearing a seatbelt was the junior firefighter. The report stated that Hypes had been strapped in at first but released his harness to put on his turnout gear and did not buckle up afterward.
“Approximately one mile from where Rescue 111 crashed, the firefighter in the left jumpseat unbuckled his seatbelt, stood up to put on his turnout pants, and then sat back down. He did not put his seat belt back on at this point. The junior firefighter was the only firefighter riding on Rescue 111 that was wearing a seat belt when the crash occurred.”
Identified as contributing factors in the accident were failure to wear seat belts, excessive speed, distraction of the operator, road conditions, and limited space between the road and the rock outcropping. The 41 page final report included seven recommendations for the fire department to help prevent future accidents.
The accident is believed to be the most deadly incident involving a Kanawha County volunteer fire company in history.