Distracted driver cause of Boone County Protection Fire District tanker crash

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 | 7:01 p.m. CST; updated 5:39 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 28, 2012

COLUMBIA — Driver distraction was the cause of an accident Saturday afternoon in which a Boone County Fire Protection District tanker flipped onto its roof in Hallsville.

Fire District Tanker 305 was responding to a barn fire on Breedlove Drive in Sturgeon when the driver was distracted while attempting to radio the firefighters following him, said Fire District Battalion Chief Gale Blomenkamp. 

The accident occurred on Missouri 124 West in Hallsville, about two blocks from the intersection of Route B and state Route OO. While making a left at the curve by Bertie Avenue, the driver looked down to change the channel on the radio to tell the firefighters following behind to pass him, Blomenkamp said.

When the driver looked up, the tanker's right wheels had drifted off the pavement. Attempting to correct the vehicle, the front wheels moved back onto the pavement but the back wheels remained off the road. The vehicle rolled over onto its roof and slid across the road into a ditch near Hudson Avenue, Blomenkamp said.

The driver was the only occupant of the tanker and was uninjured.

The accident is currently under investigation by the Hallsville Police Department and the driver has not been issued a citation, said Hallsville Chief of Police Tony Fields. 

The driver of the tanker tested negative for drugs and alcohol, Blomenkamp said.

Blomenkamp could not say whether disciplinary action would be taken against the driver.

Blomenkamp estimated the vehicle's insured value is somewhere around $180,000. 

There was an earlier driver distraction-related crash with a Fire District vehicle more than three years ago, according to a 2009 report from the Columbia Daily Tribune. Fire District Engine 401 drove off the road near Harrisburg after its driver was distracted by looking down at a map book.

"Driver distraction is something we fight all the time," Blomenkamp said, "That's something that we as an organization try to make sure doesn't happen through continual education and training."

According to Blomenkamp, when an emergency vehicle is only occupied by a driver, firefighters are told to take all necessary preliminary steps, including turning on the siren and lights and reviewing the location of the fire on a map before leaving the station house.

"Until they arrive on the scene, the only responsibility of that driver is to arrive safely," Blomenkamp said.

The accident will be reviewed by the entire Fire District, including the safety committee, fire chief, executive staff and the station commanders.

"We will dissect this incident," Blomenkamp said. "We will look at every portion of this accident to see if something needs to be changed to make things safer and better for our firefighters and for the public."

The tanker is currently out of service and being evaluated by the Fire District's insurance company, VFIS.

VFIS had an adjuster review the vehicle Tuesday, but they have not submitted an estimate to the Fire District, Blomenkamp said. 

If the vehicle is determined to be damaged beyond repair, the Fire District might decide to salvage the vehicle for useable parts as they did with Engine 401, Blomenkamp said.

Station 3 is currently using a reserve tanker in place of the damaged one.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.


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Richard Saunders November 28, 2012 | 11:53 a.m.

It would sure be nice if drivers of public safety vehicles made an effort to drive safely. Is it really that hard to understand that you need to wait until completing a turn before taking your eyes off of the road?

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