Report issued in Feb. death of fireman
Posted: October 9, 2012
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — A recent work safety report revealed a number of contributing factors and made key recommendations for local fire and rescue units following the February line-of-duty death of a local firefighter.
Zachary Whitacre, 21, of Gore — believed to be the first firefighter killed in the county in decades — lost his life Feb. 13 when he was ejected from the back of a tanker truck that was retrieving water for a structure fire on Timber Ridge Road, near Capon Bridge, W.Va.
The vehicle, driven by his father, Donald A. Whitacre Jr., slid on an icy stretch of Northwestern Pike (U.S. 50) shortly after 4 a.m. and hit an embankment.
According to a West Virginia State Trooper investigating the accident at the time, the elder Whitacre — who sustained minor injuries in the crash — didn’t know his son was on the back of the truck.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) — a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention organization — released a summary July 30 of its investigation into the incident.
Contributing factors to the crash were listed as failure to check the apparatus before leaving the scene (or a driver walk-around), inadequate communications between the driver and victim, unintentional discharge of water onto the roadway in freezing conditions, ice on the roadway and fire department communication interoperability.
“Unknown to the Tanker 14 driver [Donald Whitacre], another tanker (Tanker 9) had inadvertently dropped about 1,500 gallons of water on the roadway while also responding to the incident,” the report states. “Tanker 9 had reported the inadvertent drop to [its] dispatcher, but Tanker 14 had not heard this communication.”
The report adds that en route to retrieve more water, Tanker 14 hit a patch of black ice that had resulted from the water drop.
The report goes into great detail about the incident, including a timeline sequence of events.
Key recommendations to Frederick County Fire and Rescue include ensuring that firefighters are properly trained to check their apparatus before leaving a scene, ensuring that firefighters from different departments can communicate with each other via radio and consideration of installing rear-view cameras with monitors inside the cab.
“Any piece of fire apparatus must be checked for loose equipment and open compartment doors and to ensure that all personnel are seated in riding positions and seat belted before the apparatus is moved,” the report states. “Whether the truck is responding to an emergency or going on a non-emergency utility run, the driver must ensure the apparatus is ready to be on the road and, if necessary, by walking around the truck before it moves.”
Other recommendations include the use of better engineering controls for water dump valves, driver training to recognize, mark and communicate hazardous road conditions and driver training to maintain control of their vehicles at all times.
Multiple calls and an email to County Fire and Rescue Chief Dennis Linaburg were not returned. Multiple calls to the Gore Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company went unanswered.
— Contact Melissa Boughton at firstname.lastname@example.org