YORK COUNTY, SC (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – Several Flint Hill Firefighters are grateful to be alive after a semi-truck collided with their fire engine early Sunday morning.
Crews were responding to an accident on I-77 just over the South Carolina border when the 18-wheeler collided with the engine around 1:45 am.
“It sounded like an explosion,” recalled Lt. Anthony Knight who was responding to the original accident on the highway.
The Flint Hill Fire Chief, David Jennings said the collision was enough to send their engine and semi flying down the highway about 50 feet against a concrete barrier.
“It’s an eye-opening experience,” he said, “You can imagine the force it takes to move a 38,000-pound engine and then have it be squeezed between the wall and that truck and go for 50 feet down that wall.”
Lt. Knight said it was a fight or flight response once the truck hit the engine.
“We knew it was happening and we took off running,” he said, “just get out of the way and let it do what it’s going to do and hopefully, we would be OK.”
The engine is now sitting at the Fire Training Center in York County and is considered a total loss.
Chief Jennings estimates it’ll cost between $550,000 and $600,000 to replace.
Lt. Knight said these days, responding to highway emergencies is riskier than fighting fires.
“We’re trained to go into burning buildings, we know to resort back to our training, but there’s no training to prepare you for somebody that’s distracted,” Lt. Knight said.
Distraction, speeding, tailgating, and not moving over for emergency vehicles as required by law in both North and South Carolina law has been a big problem.
Master Trooper with the NC State Highway Patrol, Ray Pierce, said, “Those blue lights and amber lights are like moths to a flame. It just catches your attention and unfortunately, people end up colliding with those emergency vehicles”
Tpr. Pierce said slowing down and moving over if you can for emergency vehicles keeps everyone safe.
“Getting there the fastest is not going to win you a prize,” he said.
Chief Jennings said a couple of similar near-miss accidents on the highway prompted them to go back and look at their training to make sure they are leaving enough room between the engine they use to block traffic and the scene they’re working on.
He said, “If we had somebody come back to the truck to get a piece of equipment off the truck and went to any compartment on the right side of the truck, they would’ve been killed almost instantly.”
The semi-driver was injured in the accident and taken to the hospital.