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District Hires Consultant to Review Dec. 2 Accidents

MOFD examines series of Highway 24 auto crashes — including a careening car in a downpour clipping a fire engine blocking an earlier accident scene — that resulted in multiple injuries.

The Moraga-Orinda Fire District has hired an independent consultant to prepare within 60 days a comprehensive incident review of the Dec. 2 series of auto accidents in a downpour on Highway 24 in which three firefighters were injured.

The consultant will assemble an objective team of fire service professionals to look at the Orinda incident, Chief Randy Bradley told the MOFD Board of Directors Thursday: "They will look at leadership, policy and procedures."

The incident concerned authorities because firefighters followed procedures in parking a fire engine in two lanes of the eastbound freeway as a block to the initial accident scene. The blocking truck was subsequently struck by a hydroplaning vehicle. Then another vehicle careened by the truck and rolled over. The last vehicle struck and hurt pedestrians on the side of the road, including three MOFD firefighters and a driver from the earlier accident.

The injured firefighters were Kelly Morris, Stephen Rogness and Capt. Michael Rattary. An unidentified civilian, a driver from a car in an earlier accident who was struck by another vehicle while standing at the side of the highway, has been in critical condition at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Oakland, Bradley said Thursday.

"I was pleased with the way we reacted and responded," Bradley said. Two days after the incident, the department put in place "compensatory measures" (described below) to add to procedures in freeway incidents, awaiting a more comprehensive review by the consultant.

Timeline

The first step has been a "green sheet" informational summary report of a serious injury accident by MOFD officials, which Bradley presented to the board. It provides a timeline for a confusing chain of accidents:

On December 2, 2012 at 09:03 hours Medic-45 (a medic unit from Station 45) was on scene of single vehicle accident in the east bound lane of State Route 24 when they witnessed and reported vehicle accident approximately 1500 feet to the west of their location in the eastbound lanes.
Two MOFD engines (E-43, E-42), a medic unit (M-45), and a chief officer (BC-4) were dispatched and responded.
Engine-43 was the first unit to arrive on scene and found four vehicles with minor to moderate damage on the shoulder and in the number four lane. Engine-43 positioned upstream in a "block right" configuration in lane four and a portion of lane three. BC-4 arrived on scene and position 150 feet upstream of Engine-43. A Caltrans vehicle arrived and positioned behind BC-4. At approximately 09:15 hours BC was dispatched to another vehicle accident.
After approximately ten minutes on scene, conditions at the scene began to deteriorate with vehicles beginning to lose control due to an increased flow of water covering and crossing the roadway west of the accident scene; Captain-43 moved his crew to the shoulder, behind the front of Engine-43. Civilians from the original accident were placed into Medic-45 for protection from the weather and traffic.
At approximately 09:16 hours, Engine-43 was struck by an oncoming vehicle and the occupant parked in the number four lane near the original accident and exited the vehicle to meet with Captain 43. BC-4 cleared from another incident and responded to the scene when he heard Engine 43 had been struck. Captain-43 ordered Medic-45 to move further east as vehicles continued to lose control through the water on the roadway.
At approximately 09:21 hours, a vehicle lost control in the number 1 or 2 lane, spun past the blocking engine (Engine 43), CHP Officer and Caltrans Vehicle and began to roll over into the incident scene, striking three firefighters and the civilian who had struck the engine and exited his vehicle …"

The green sheet states: "It appears that all operational procedures for vehicle accidents were followed. The comprehensive incident review will evaluate adherence to procedures and procedure adequacy and effectiveness."

Compensatory measures

"Compensatory measures" were put in place on Dec. 4 after the initial review, the green sheet says:

  • Adding Truck 41 as an additional resource in freeway responses.
  • Adding a second chief officer to freeway responses to assist with traffic control.
  • Adding a procedure to notify the Caltrans Caldecott Control to be called to slow or stop traffic for incidents between the tunnel and the St. Stephen's Road, Orinda, exit, when necessary.
  • Directing MOFD incident commanders to have CHP close all lanes when safety conditions deteriorate.
  • Allowing incident commanders on freeway incidents to utilize 180-degree scene blocking to shield from passing and oncoming traffic.

"It does remind us that we have a very dangerous job," said Bradley. "We're going to do everything we can to assure our firefighters work in a safe environment."

Jim Fleming December 18, 2012 at 03:47 AM
I am sorry that people were injured. However, who decided to send firemen to an auto accident with minor to moderate vehicle damage and no mention of fire or personal injury? Is this in their job description? Seems like a job for CHP. Are we paying for excess capacity? Do we get state funding to respond to freeway accidents?
Steve Cohn December 18, 2012 at 03:55 AM
@Bailey - You're right. Doing a free consult with CHP and CalTrans probably should be step one. My point was just saying "there are always idiots out there; current protocol is fine" (which I am not implying that they are saying) is not OK. Maybe they will end up hiring a consultant but I am applauding them for looking into this. They would be criticized if they did nothing and they are being criticized for doing something. On this one I think we should cut them some slack but I hope that they "report back" to the community. ps. It would be great if they felt confident enough and part of the community enough to actually engage on these pages in discussions like this. I am sure they read this.
Steve Cohn December 18, 2012 at 03:58 AM
All reasonable questions. Chief? Board?
Gene G December 18, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Until you get more information from the MOFD officials, I can provide an unofficial opinion: In any highway accident, 911 Dispatch will send one or more ambulances to the scene. The paramedics are the first responders with the responsibility to rescue, evaluate and treat injured victims. They are the only ones who can use the Jaws of Life if necessary to get the victims out of a wreck. The police and CHP are responsible for maintaining order, traffic control and investigating the cause of the accident.
Quick Facts December 19, 2012 at 06:07 AM
911 dispatchers sent the firefighters out onto highwaty 24 to render first aid to vicitms of a traffic accident. Is the Lamorinda TEA Party suggesting that the fire department not respond to injuries in a traffic accident on the roadways due to costs? Those same critics will be the first demanding service when there family member, child, friend is injured in a traffic accident. The Fact that three (3) firefighters were seriously injured and hospitalized in this accident should be the first concern of the public, since these people were out protecting and serving the public when they were injured. Proven by some of the comments here, the public needs responsible leaders to make decisions on issues that impact public safety. I am pleased that neither the Chief or the Board would stoop to answer questions in this forum. Monday morning quarterbacks who think that they know it all will make jack ass comments about: flares, caltrans, chp, large fire trucks, etc. The bottom line is that people were seriously injured and one man is still in intensive care following this incident. Not investigating this incident and coming up with recommendations for future accidents would be irresponsible on multiple levels. If one life is saved, one injury prevented, or future damage to property is avoided, the time and costs associated with the consultant is null.

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