About 7 a.m. on Saturday morning October 2, Victor Volunteer firefighters were called to the scene of an automobile accident on Highway 93 south of Victor. The accident happened in a thick fog bank when one vehicle slowed and was rear-ended by a second vehicle. The crash had blocked the southbound lanes. In response, Victor firefighters pulled their fire engines across the lane to protect the accident scene and southbound traffic began moving into one of the northbound lanes. The deep fog moved further south and a pick-up truck with two people in it passed a vehicle that had slowed and breezed by a volunteer standing in the road, swiping her with the truck’s mirror, and then slammed into the side of a fire truck. Although there were some injuries among volunteer firefighters and among vehicle drivers and passengers, there were no fatalities.
Captain Scott Hackett of the Victor Volunteer Fire Department was on the scene when the truck swept through and is still shaken by the events.
“I don’t know how to express this but it’s pretty damn scary when you are in a fog and can’t even see but about the length of a vehicle, so when you do look up and see a vehicle it is coming at you with a high rate of speed,” said Hackett.
He said after those people got out OK they moved the traffic warning vehicle to Bell Crossing. Fog was still very bad at that intersection. He said you could barely see the light at the intersection.
Hackett said that apparently lots of people go barreling into a patch of fog across the road thinking they will just blast right through it.
“They don’t think about a fire truck being parked in the middle of it,” he said. He said they did light flares along the side of the road and that seemed to get people’s attention. He said at one point he did see a fireman in the middle of the highway when a car pulled out to pass another and was headed right for him.
“I turned away,” said Hackett. “I couldn’t look. I thought, it’s over.” The fireman survived, with the vehicle missing him by about a foot.
Hackett said the fog that day was thicker than usual. He said in hindsight they should have moved their traffic control farther away from the scene sooner. Another serious issue was the fact that the firemen could not communicate on their radios. He attributed it to the thick fog.
Another serious issue, according to Hackett, was the way people will brazenly defy attempts to stop traffic. He said when they moved their control site to Victor Crossing, people would take side roads around it.
Hackett said that the department’s insurance company was having the fire truck examined to see if it is repairable or if it is totaled. He said the fire department had a back-up engine to use in the meantime. He said both fire halls in Victor each had a back-up engine on hand for emergencies like this. Not only that, he said, Chief Kay had heard from almost every Fire Chief in the valley offering an engine for use if he needed it. He said Missoula offered to lend them an engine. “They even heard from one department in Klamath Falls, Oregon, offering to lend them an engine,” said Hackett.
He said the old fire truck has been a good one. “If we can fix it, we will fix it. But if we can’t, we’ll just go on, but we will keep the angel on the side of it,” referring to the picture of an angel standing guard over a firefighter. “That truck did just exactly what it was supposed to do. That’s why we take those great big trucks out there and park them on the highway. People say ‘why are you taking such a big truck out to an auto accident’. It’s a 30,000-pound road block for protection.”
“I guess the biggest message to get out there is, yeah, I understand that you are in a hurry to get where you want to go, but if things don’t look quite right just slow down and proceed with caution because you never know what you are going to see on the other side.”