On Nov. 21, Oregon firefighters were called to a unique MVA scene: A pick-up truck was teetering precariously over the side of a highway overpass—with a person inside.
At 1538 HRS, a 9-1-1 call to Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency (WCCCA) reported an injury accident involving a vehicle overhanging the highway on Denney Road in the Beaverton area west of Portland. Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue (TVF&R) dispatched Engine 53, Battalion Chief Unit C-7 and a Metro West ambulance.
When the C-7 battalion chief received updated information en route, he called for the nearest truck company, TVF&R 67, which was dispatched at 1542 HRS. C-7 also called for the TVF&R technical rescue team, which consisted of HR 51 (a heavy rescue unit) and TVF&R Truck 51. In addition, a second TVF&R battalion chief responded and would ultimately become the safety officer on scene. Law enforcement units from the Beaverton Police Department and Washington County Sherriff’s Office also responded.
C-7 arrived on scene to find a wrecked pick-up truck had smashed through an overpass guardrail, with three-quarters of the vehicle hanging over the highway approximately 35 feet below. With most of the truck hanging over the side and the guardrail knocked away, it appeared that the vehicle was being supported only by a vertical metal upright that had supported the guardrail, though a portion of guardrail had become pinched between the truck’s rear axle and frame.
A police officer and a citizen confirmed that there was an adult male inside the vehicle. He did not appear to be seriously injured, but responders were having difficultly communicating with him.
As rescuers began a quick size-up, law enforcement closed both the northbound and southbound lanes of Route 217 below the overpass, as well as the overpass itself.
The immediate action was to stabilize the vehicle so it would not slip further. Firefighters ran a tow strap from the wench on C-7’s vehicle to the axle of the wrecked pick-up. Shortly after that, Engine 53 arrived on scene, and C-7 assigned this crew to anchor the vehicle to E-53 using ropes and chains.
T-67 arrived soon thereafter and was initially instructed to position themselves down on Route 217, in an attempt at patient access. But it was quickly decided that this crew should also be used for stabilization efforts on the overpass. So T-67 nosed into the scene and ran chains and rope from its engineered anchor points to the wrecked vehicle. The firefighters ultimately had two chains and four different rope systems stabilizing the wrecked pickup.
Now that stabilization efforts were well along, C-7 assigned a technical rescue team leader from HR 51 to continue the stabilization process and develop plans A, B and C for extrication.
Plan A would have Truck 51, with its 100' ladder bucket, set up below the incident on Route 217. The crew would raise the bucket with three firefighters and portable extrication equipment to the driver’s side door of the pick-up. If this plan proved problematic, plan B was to lower a firefighter on a line from T67 to the driver’s side of the pick-up. Plan C was to bring in a crane, attach the vehicle to the crane, and lift the vehicle back onto the overpass.
Fortunately, crews determined that plan A was going to work just fine. Once HR 51’s bucket reached the side of the vehicle, firefighters easily opened the undamaged door without extrication tools.
Crews found the 38-year-old driver to be highly intoxicated (he was later found to have a blood alcohol content of .50). Though the patient was not combative and did not resist the rescuers, he was unable to assist in his rescue. Despite the severity of the accident, the driver did not appear to have any significant injuries.
Firefighters secured the patient in a premade harness and secured him by running a rope from the harness to the bucket. They then guided the patient from the vehicle into the bucket. The bucket was then lowered to the ground.
To complicate matters further, not only did the man have a high blood alcohol content, but he was also wanted on a felony warrant. Fortunately, there was a large law enforcement presence. C-7 was communicating with the police commander to make certain that when they brought the patient all the way to the ground, there would be plenty of police officers to provide security and take the patient into custody when he was transferred to the paramedics.
At 1627 HRS, Metro West ambulance transported the patient to Oregon Heath Sciences University in Portland. As a precaution, he was admitted as a trauma patient because of the mechanism of the accident. Plus, he was so intoxicated at the scene that paramedics couldn’t do a reliable assessment. But ultimately, he was found not to have any serious injuries and was eventually released into the custody of law enforcement. Most fire units cleared by 1553 HRS.
As for the dangling truck, a crane was brought in to lift it onto the overpass. It was then secured onto a flatbed truck and taken away.
Sources: Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Scott Steiner, who was the incident commander at the scene of the incident, provided information for this report. Some additional details were taken from an account of the incident by KOIN-TV 6.
Lessons Learned/Lessons Reinforced:
Battalion Chief Steiner observed the following:
“From this incident we learned a lot in terms in terms of how to set priorities, the different ways of vehicle stabilization, and how to break up the various elements of the incident.
“It was a good learning process on understanding our area resources and capabilities. We had a very good communication interface with law enforcement, but it could have been a better coordinated effort. When we were into the incident, we found this gentleman was wanted on a warrant. We were being reactive, not proactive. It would have been better if we had this communication in the very beginning. So needing a better unified command on this was an important lesson learned.
“We’ve discussed our original efforts at stabilization, how to go about stabilizing, our tools and our capabilities, and what parts of the vehicle do we hook up to. Initially, one of the few areas we used to stabilize was the pick-up’s rear axle. It’s a nice chunk of metal, it’s round, it’s easy to get things around it. But it’s not a permanent part of the vehicle, and luckily we began to attach to more structural parts of the vehicle. There were better places we should have hooked to in the very beginning, such as on the frame. Had the vehicle dropped, it would have been just a short distance. So we have had a discussion about how we would do it differently in the future. I do know that if in the beginning we had made some better choices, we would have been safer.
“We also discussed ordering a crane, whether or not the crane would have been an absolutely necessary piece of equipment, or perhaps order a heavy wrecker from one of our larger tow companies.”