Interstate 25 was the scene of multiple accidents recently amid dangerous winter road conditions. The first crash occurred involving a semi-truck and a passenger vehicle and fortunately, no severe injuries were incurred. A fire truck from the Wellington Fire District responded to the scene and was positioned in the left lane. Darienne Novack, age 24 of Fort Collins, was traveling northbound on I-25 in her Chevy Malibu and encountered a patch of ice. Novack’s car spun and violently struck the fire truck.
Novack was taken to the Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, where she died. At the time of the collision, there were no firefighters in the truck. The Colorado State Patrol did not believe that Novack was under the influence of alcohol or drugs; however, she was not wearing a safety belt at the time. Data from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) shows that roughly 50% of last year’s traffic fatalities involved unbuckled motorists. Earlier in the day, the Wellington Fire Protection District had used both Twitter and Facebook to warn drivers of dangerous conditions on I-25 stemming from freezing rain. Wellington’s Fire Department, which employs 16 full-time firefighters, covers a region of 288 miles, encompassing some stretches of roadway that are known for volatile winter weather.
This accident comes on the heels of another accident where a fire truck was struck on Interstate 76 near Keenesburg that we recently reviewed. In this instance, a truck belonging to the Southeast Weld Fire Protection District was hit by a tractor-trailer and sent four firefighters to the Platte Valley Medical Center Hospital. Luckily, none of the firefighters were seriously injured. Tom Beach, the Fire Chief, emphasized that motorists should make efforts to allow sufficient space for emergency response vehicles on the roads. He hopes to limit the dangers that firefighters face on the roads before they encounter the dangers of a severe fire.
There are roughly 30,000 collisions with fire trucks occurring each year now. This trend presents problems for firefighters, motorists, and those in need of emergency response. The Department of Homeland Security reports that vehicle accidents account for between 20-25% of fatalities among those in the line-of-duty. Vehicle accidents are the second most common cause of death for firefighters who are on duty. Approximately 100,000 firefighters are injured while on duty in the U.S. each year. Other leading causes of on-duty deaths include:
- Stress & overexertion (50%)
- Being trapped (10%)
- Falling (5%)
- Collapses (3%).
Over 60% of the traffic fatalities that occur to those in fire trucks are caused by “rollover” accidents. Despite progress in safety technology and engineering, the number of firefighter injuries and deaths in accidents has remained about the same. The size and weight of these massive trucks, coupled with a high rate of speed when responding to an emergency, heightens the potential for dangerous consequences.
Many of the recent accidents across the state have been attributed to winter weather conditions. In response, CDOT is making efforts to enhance awareness among motorists about being cautious when driving and being aware of the potential for icy surfaces. In extreme weather events, CDOT may employ Passenger Vehicle Traction & Chain Laws. This requires motorists to either use snow tires or an all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle. As a last resort, CDOT will require motorists to install chains on their tires, or use another device for traction like AutoSock, or simply close the roadway. Violators may face fines of between $130 and $650. All passenger vehicle tires should always have a minimum remaining tread depth of one-eighth inch.
CDOT has continued their campaign regarding the importance of using snow tires in the winter months. They recently conducted a test with assistance from MasterDrive to demonstrate tire performance on ice. They created a video where three identical cars with different types of tires were tested on the ice at the Foothills Arena. The vehicle that was equipped with snow tires demonstrated superior performance in icy conditions. The rubber used in snow tires remains softer and more pliable when facing freezing temperatures, allowing for a much greater ability to stop.
Though there are only a few weeks left of wintry weather, pay attention, heed warnings, and watch out for emergency personnel.