Saturday, January 18, 2014


Car slid sideways into tree trapping driver on Bay Road, South Amherst. Photo courtesy AFD Local 1764

The DPW seemed surprised at the severity of today's snowstorm, as crews hit the street in force after reports flowed in from all over town (and the Valley) of the havoc wreaked by the, otherwise, pretty white stuff.

In particular a single car crash on Bay Road in South Amherst around 3:40 PM tied up Engine 1, Engine 2, Rescue 1 and an ambulance, as the entire crew (8) of on-duty fire fighters used two sets of Jaws of Life to extricate the driver and transport her to Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

Proper equipment wielded by properly trained professionals makes all the difference as crews managed to safely extricate the woman in 33 minutes flat.

Firefighters removed the roof, door and half the steering wheel to extricate lone occupant.
Photo courtesy AFD Local 1764

Dispatch had to tone out for extra off duty-firefighters to report in for station coverage at Central Station in town center as well as Engine 3 and Engine 4, staffed by Call Force, at North Station.

Between 3:45 PM and 5:30 PM emergency dispatch received 23 reports of motor vehicle accidents, just in Amherst.  Hadley PD was also swamped with calls for cars off the road and into trees or telephone poles.

The ambulance that was transporting the woman from the Bay Road accident to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital called back to Dispatch to report two cars off the road on the Amherst/Hadley border.


Anonymous said...

A bit more than weather reports stated- This is from WGGB's forecast...
" Any wet snow in the valley should quickly change over to rain or rain showers and taper off by mid-day Saturday with just a coating of snow possible. The sun may even come out during the second half of the day."

Anonymous said...

Reality trumps prognostication!

Anonymous said...

Put your tex phone down and drive you animals!

Anonymous said...

It's not snow. We have Global Warmnig -- it is Global Warming that is falling from the sky....

Anonymous said...

Larry -- is that your flash, or were those yellow 4-way flashers of the wrecked car on/blinking?

If so, and assuming that the victim was stable -- that this wasn't a desperate race against time -- I'm wondering why they didn't go for the battery first and disconnect it,

I'm curious, not critical -- I was always told to go for the battery if I had the time to do so because you don't know how many loose wires are hanging near enough to a metal piece of the frame (or already touching it) and the problem with short circuits is that the battery can explode -- sulfuric acid spraying everywhere.

Digital cameras do funky things and that may be the case here -- but if that car still had lights on, if the victim was stable and not dying in front of them, I am curious as to the rationale for not going for the battery first.

Walter Graff said...

No offense to the dedicated and clearly overworked staff of AFD but a bit more refreshing of accepted safety procedures is in need.

SOP #1 for an extraction is kill the vehicle ignition and to cut the cables to the battery before any cutters are used for roof removal. I can't see the ignition switch so am simply stating that but seeing those rear tail light engaged says to me that Amherst did not follow a simple rule for extraction.

I can't see from the limited photos but it also looks like no stabilization of the vehicle was performed on what looks like a grade.

Also second zone perimeter safety for vehicles is between 15 and 30 feet. Those trucks are far TOO close.

It's about your safety guys. I've been involved with nearly 50 safety/training videos for the City of NYFD and these simple rules can save your life.

Walter Graff said...

No that is not a flash reflection. Those lights are on and you are correct, the battery should have been cut prior to any extraction.

Anonymous said...

SOP #1 for an extraction is kill the vehicle ignition and to cut the cables to the battery

You know, there always is the possibility that an airbag or two hasn't gone off yet, and those can be lethal at very close range...

As an aside -- and anyone at AFD/APD/UMPD who hasn't read the Fire Marshal's memo on hybrid vehicles -- the "make it move" battery is something like 200 volts DC and while the relay is supposed to disconnect it when power to a relay stops coming from the ignition switch, according to the FM, the relay can be damaged in an accident and the battery MUST be manually disconnected.

These are orange or yellow wires -- the only other thing allowed to be orange or yellow in a car is airbag trigger wiring, but these are thick ones while the former is thin.

I can't see the ignition switch so am simply stating that but seeing those rear tail light engaged

No, I think those are the 4-ways which -- as they are "emergency" flashers, have wiring that bypasses a lot of stuff. (I'm not even sure if they are protected by a fuse...)

Sometimes funky things happen when you disconnect that switch -- which the AFD almost inevitably did in cutting away the steering wheel and dashboard to get her out of there.

I wouldn't be at all surprised that disconnecting the switch and/or shorting one of the wires to ground caused them to go on the same way that shorting the lead to the horn button used to make the horn sound -- I think still does.

I can't see from the limited photos but it also looks like no stabilization of the vehicle was performed on what looks like a grade.

I once rolled over a Honda Civic with little more than my bare hands -- it, too, was on a grade (upside down & empty) and there was a motorcyclist underneath it, bleeding badly...

Walter is right -- to a point. There is a balance between getting the person out quick enough to bother doing it, and doing it "by the book." This is where you have to give some discretion to the people whose boots were there on the ground, as long as they are acting rationally and not recklessly.

It's a balancing of risks -- if they spent 90 minutes rather than 30 in cutting her out, that would have had a definite negative impact on her wellbeing and medical outcome -- even if she was stable, spending an extra hour trapped in that car could kill her. Remember she's scared, likely in pain, and neither of those are helpful.

I was in one situation where the most critical medical emergency wasn't that a kid's hand was impaled between a car and the jack it had just rolled off of, but that he was trying to pull the hand loose. Different level of situation, but if she went into hypothermia or shock or something....

Also second zone perimeter safety for vehicles is between 15 and 30 feet. Those trucks are far TOO close.

Again, textbook versus field conditions. Wet snow on the ground, dirt rather than pavement, and substantial trees to duck behind if there were to be a fire -- it's a judgment call.

The flip side of this, of course, is that a fire truck is a very large piece of metal that will stop a second errant vehicle from landing where you know one already has -- it's personnel protection for people working on the scene.

You also kinda got to put your vehicles with flashing lights in a place where motorists can either see them in time to stop -- or where they aren't obstructing the passage of oncoming vehicles. Otherwise, you've got more accidents, and likely worse ones -- and both visibility and road conditions were bad at the time.

So of those three risks, distance from a potential car fire is not the one I would consider most pressing.

I'm not saying you are wrong Walter -- you aren't -- it just is a case of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you can see the yellow emergency flashers (ie both directionals) are on in the fire truck picture -- my guess was constant on and that this was either (a) the failsafe design of the 4-way flashers themselves (which are designed to display a light when all others have failed) and/or the response to an air bag triggering event.

Remember, the airbag has its OWN power supply -- you not only have to disconnect the battery but wait 90 seconds or so before that discharges -- only then are they disabled. The vehicle battery is usually in little pieces early in an accident -- but if it is still functioning after airbag deployment, all electric doors unlock, all interior lights go on, and some exterior ones too.

It's a little Orwellian, but we are even at the point where the car itself will sometimes send an automated distress call -- it will say where it is and that an air bag has been deployed.

Let's pat ourselves on the back folks -- we are making safer cars than we used to. If it'd been a couple hours later and dark, if this had been on a less traveled road and the falling snow had obscured the skid marks, it'd been damn helpful to have two yellow lights showing that there was a car in the woods. And even if it was a 911 call to the *police* for drunken college kids, the cops would figure out what they were looking at real quick, and respond appropriately.

And Walter, I'm guessing that not blocking the road was a big issue for AFD -- remember poor road and visibility conditions. Ideally they'd set a flare pattern out -- in both directions -- 300-500 yards back. Even better would be that and/or some orange cones further back, then a police car with blues (and taillights or parking lights guys, PLEASE) displayed -- but OFF THE ROAD - even better the directional yellow flashers if the light bar has them -- and then more orange cones blocking the portion of the road that is obstructed by the fire trucks.

Or you close the whole road and detour, with someone at each turn on the detour until you can get signs out there. But this takes time and resources that you may not have.

I once saw a police car sideways in Route 2 where it's a divided highway -- blocking most of it, after dark (no streetlights) and displaying only his white side alley light on the light bar. His vehicle's high beams (no takedown lights on lightbar) were desperately needed in what wound up being a futile attempt to save the life of a motorcyclist who was in the woods.

The officer was taking one hell of a risk doing that -- this was late at night on a mostly empty road posted at 55 MPH where people often are going a lot more than that -- and he presumed that the oncoming motorist (me) upon seeing a white light facing him on a one-way road would presume that *something* was really wrong, and I did....

My issue is not "naughty, naughty AFD, you did it wrong" but "we both know the protocols -- why did you choose not to follow them?

I suspect there is a reason.

Anonymous said...

But our town doesn't need additional public safety personnel, as the town manager just stated in his budget release.

Anonymous said...

Both of you are insane.

Anonymous said...

Both of you are insane

Or the AFD is arrogant and that is the sort of thing that killed six Worcester firefighters a few years back, killed at least one Boston firefighter in that ladder truck accident when he had no brakes, and eventually it's going to lead to a tragedy in Amherst.

Pig-headed arrogance -- the mentality that we are the experts, and that we neither need to justify anything to anyone else let alone concede that, on occasion, our critics might actually be right -- is not only what got us ensnared in the quagmire of Vietnam but also led us to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

(We were winning that war, the enemy's losses in Tet were staggering, and one of the reasons why we didn't is the American military and political leadership. Westmoreland, Johnson & Co.)

The AFD are hard working, well trained and quite brave -- but that does not mean that they are not human beings.

There inevitably will be an investigation and a report on the tragic demise of the Prescott Fire team, written by someone who is qualified to evaluate what happened (which I'm not), and who has reviewed all the relevant information and interviewed the survivor (which I also have not), and while the report will couch everything in squishy language, as it ought to in light of the tragic loss of life, it inherently is going to have to come to some variant of one of two things -- either the tragedy was avoidable, or it wasn't.

Bluntly, that either someone screwed up, or no one did. If the former, that's what I'm talking about -- and I emphasize that if there's even a report out, I haven't seen it.

We lost two space shuttles -- to arrogance. Technically the first was lost because the "O" rings worked even less well in cold weather and the second was because foam insulation, traveling in excess of the sound barrier (my eyebrows went up when I heard that little fact) broke the heat shield it bounced off of. But the underlying cause was blind stupid arrogance -- they should never have launched the first one on a morning that cold, and spray-on foam traveling at supersonic speeds, umm, who exactly thought that was a good idea?

Anyone remember the exploding Ford Pintos? Any firefighters remember them? Think that wouldn't have happened -- or gone on as long as it did -- if Ford hadn't been quite so arrogant?

This is what gets people killed. Just sayin....

Thomas Valle, Secretary, Local 1764 said...

Walter, and others who are curious,

Our members are well aware of the dangers involved in complex vehicle extrication. As secretary of the Local, I can address a couple of your comments.

1. You are correct there is no stabilization shown in these pictures. However, these pictures were taken once the extrication was complete, equipment was packed up, stabilization was removed, and the tow company was arriving on scene. The vehicle was properly stabilized, including deflation of the tires, during operations.

2. Disconnecting the battery is a priority in almost all vehicle extrication scenarios. Unfortunately, damage to the front of this vehicle (not visible in these pictures) was so severe that accessing the battery was realistically impossible in a timely manner. Damage to the steering column itself was severe enough to prevent crews from even operating the ignition switch.

Delivering the highest, most professional level of public service to our community is a top priority for our members. Our members attend countless hours of class and training to learn the safest way possible to provide these services.

We understand the dangers of any emergency scene. We understand the importance of established practices. But we also understand each situation is unique, and the reality of the emergency scene can sometimes be quite different from the ideal scenarios laid out in a class room. Sometimes the trucks must park closer than desired. Sometimes a battery is inaccessible. And sometimes we have no choice but to run a fire engine with less than half the personnel dictated by NFPA standards. But we cannot let these hurdles stop us from doing our job.

We appreciate your sharp eyes noticing these details in the work we do. Be assured we make every effort possible to deliver our services and patient care with the most appropriate balance of speed and safety possible.

Tom Valle
Secretary, Local 1764

Anonymous said...

Nice of you to explain, but they are just know it alls

Walter Graff said...

Part 1 of 2

Thank you Tom for your explanation. From my vantage point I admittedly mentioned I was lacking much information based on two photos, but as you confirmed I asked valid questions as a trained observer. Your explanation is very acceptable and I appreciate you addressing it here.

Having worked on countless state and federal disaster simulations, having worked with manufacturers of fire safety equipment and numerous police and fire departments on safety and training videos, and having been in the pit for two days strait after the attacks on the World Trade Center I can say from experience that I have seen many simple mistakes that have caused needless accidents because as you know, as much as we train, sometimes we miss something. The smallest of errors are the ones that become the biggest mistakes. Worse, as much a we train there is always a scenario we never trained for or expected.

It seems the public here, in their ignorance takes my comments and curiosities for your safety as some sort of slight. I'm sure you know my intentions are your safety and like any trained observer, I simply want to make sure you all make it home after a shift. Amherst is very good at attacking the messenger and ignoring the message. I expect no less from a town of intellectuals who will delight in reading Fahrenheit 451, but ignore the needs of their town and its employees.

You are a seriously undermanned department. As you are aware that is one of the most dangerous safety issues you face. Some safety training requires a minimum of participants to be effective. When you can't train properly, you can't perform properly in real world situations. And even when you can train properly, not having enough personnel eventually nips you in the bud.

I support your effort and say shame on the town of Amherst. Shame on the town and the elitist council for squandering funds and denying you what you deserve and need. This town gets away with murder and all you can do is your work with your hands tied.

God forbid, but someday we will see bunting in Amherst and I just hope it is for courage and valor and not because someone suffered because they didn't not have the support they needed. And then what will we tell their children and their families? That daddy died doing what he loved, and had every tool he needed, or that daddy died because the town never gave him what he needed to do his job correctly.

I come from a family that has seen many a dedicated firefighter. My grandfather alone served the city of NYC for over 40 years and died of emphysema, as when he worked proper apparatus hadn't been invented yet. I saw seven friends in one engine company lose their lives on 9/11. Many firefighters lost their lives that day not only doing their job, but because they lacked the equipment they needed to do it properly during the attacks. I myself served a number of years in a police department in suburban NYC. I know what it is like when a department is looked at as an after thought. The police and fire department of Amherst are not given the respect they deserve by the town.


Walter Graff said...

Part 2 of 2

It's a shame so many residents waste their time here condemning me for caring about you when they should be using their energy to go after the town, demanding you get the apparatus and personnel you need and severely lack. SHAME ON YOU AMHERST!!! It's a town full of pishers.

Shame on the residents of Amherst for allowing a severely undermanned police and fire department. Shame on you folks for not seeing that what the firefighters and police department lack you will suffer for eventually. It's not if, it's when. And like Amherst, only then will you act.

Shame on you Amherst for wasting a large percentage of your tax revenue to fund a broken school administration, when those monies could be so better used.

Thank you Tom, and thank you the civil servants of Amherst. You define valor and courage just by starting your shift each day working with bearskins and stone knives. If only the ignorant in this town new that the fuse they play with is very combustible.

Keep on enforcing safety issues in town as much as possible, as simple as they may be, because as you know it is your first defense when you don't have the resources you need once tragedy strikes.

Anonymous said...

How juvenile can you be to condemn the values of the people of an entire town simply by virtue of the fact that they live there?

I made a down payment on a mortgage. I did not sign off on a statement of principles.

Grow up, Walter.

Anonymous said...

Gee, Tom, Walter was just trying to tell you how to do your job based on all the training as a firefighter and a first responder he's received. It's only because he cares so much about your safety... kind of like when he constantly maligns the employees and the work of the school administration it's only because he cares so much about the children of Amherst and the parents and taxpayers. Or when he talks about poor road design and maintenance in Amherst, in a highly derogatory way, it's only because he cares so much about us commuters and public works employees. And his negative comments about Amherst's small business community, town administrators, UMass administration, feminists, his superior knowledge regarding issues pertaining to the "Retreat" and land development and housing issues, plastic vs. styrofoam cups, issues of free-speech, peanuts, the problem of college aged binge-drinking, our parenting skills, and so on and so on and so on... he only has our best interest at heart. Why can't you see that he is a BLESSING and he is here to HELP us?

Larry Kelley said...

We are fast approaching the point where I shut off comments for this particular post.

Anonymous said...

Could you be specific for us: what sort of comments will be deemed over the line, and will result in comment shut-off? I want to make sure I follow the rules of the blog, so that my comments will be posted.

Larry Kelley said...

Well no matter what I now say somebody will go back a week and find 50 comments that violate the rules.

So I'm going to keep it simple for now: Comments must be on topic and not be longer than the original article they are commenting on.

Call it the Twitter influence.

Anonymous said...

Could you also require that they be based on valid facts? If Walter and Ed were truely interested in the safety of our firefighters, they should contact the dept. instead of critiquing them on a blog. And feel free to contact the town manager and select board concerning staffing levels. That ball is in their court.

Larry Kelley said...

I'm not the New York Times, so I can't afford to hire fact checkers.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you would consider a trial run for a week or two where anon comments are not allowed. It could actually result in more people commenting and more relevant comments.

Larry Kelley said...

I would be a tad more impressed with the suggestion if you had not made it as an Anon.

Anonymous said...

I sure was surprised by the snow squall, too! Did you see how that car got turned into a convertible? That's awesome that they did that in 33 minutes flat. Our resources sure did get pushed to the limit--we need more firefighters and cops and EMT!

Be the one said...

Could you also require that they be based on valid facts? If Walter and Ed were truely interested in the safety of our firefighters, they should contact the dept. instead of critiquing them on a blog. And feel free to contact the town manager and select board concerning staffing levels.

fire marshal training