WASHINGTON (FOX 5 DC) – It’s been nearly two years since a life-altering accident for a rookie D.C. firefighter. Dane Smothers Jr. was pinned between two firetrucks as he responded to a house fire in Northeast in August 2017. Now, he’s suing the DC Fire Department for a crash that shattered his future on the front lines.
The incident nearly killed Smothers, but it also implemented changes that others on the department believe killed another young man trapped in an apartment fire.
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Smothers says he is taking the department to court because he fears insufficient training could claim someone else’s life.
“I was on the red bumper on the back step of the fire engine grabbing a hose and as I begin to turn that’s when everything just went dark. My spinal cord was partially severed. Everything on the left side of me was pretty much crushed – broken leg. I’m missing a lung,” said Smothers.
He’s undergone 12 surgeries since the accident and will likely have to undergo even more. He’s now also legally blind in one eye and with virtually no function of his left arm.
After being hospitalized for three months, Smothers has relearned basic functions including walking and continues intensive physical therapy.
A 60-page after-report maintains blindspots were a leading factor that led Smothers to be pinned between a parked fire engine and a moving ladder truck.
That same report also contends Smothers’ “lapse in situational awareness and lack of fire ground experience ” were factors in the accident.
“I was doing my job. I was where I was supposed to be. Doing what I was supposed to do,” said Smothers. “It gave me the feeling of being kicked while I was down at my lowest point.”
Smothers comes from a family of firefighters and is still an employee of DC Fire although he has not reported back to work. His dream of one day becoming an officer will likely never happen, but he says life must go on. He recently got married and just last week welcomed a baby girl named Alliyah.
Since the accident, DC Fire and EMS has implemented new guidelines.
Thursday night in a statement, the department said, in part, recommended actions “will be made so that we are doing all that we can to make sure that something like this won’t happen again,” including staging blocks away from the scene of a fire.
In April, a young lawyer lost his life in an apartment fire. The DC Fire Union contends crews may have been able to save the young man’s life had they stationed closer.
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Smothers’ attorney, former DC councilmember William Lightfoot hopes this imminent lawsuit will prevent others from being severely injured or killed.
“They will be responding to a lawsuit because we’re gonna file one within the next two weeks and then will get to the bottom of it,” said Lightfoot.
Smothers says as soon as he can, despite the suit, he will return to work for the DC Fire Department.