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MailTribune.com
  • Other Views: Overhaul firefighting rules now

    Better inspection could have prevented last summer's fatal water-truck crash
  • A new report into a wreck that killed an Albany teenager battling a wildfire last summer in Southern Oregon provides additional evidence that the flames aren't the only dangerous thing about firefighting.
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  • A new report into a wreck that killed an Albany teenager battling a wildfire last summer in Southern Oregon provides additional evidence that the flames aren't the only dangerous thing about firefighting.
    But the report suggests some common-sense steps that officials can take to reduce some of the risks that are under the control of fire managers.
    Jesse Trader, a 19-year-old graduate of West Albany High School, was driving a water tanker on Aug. 6 when it hit an embankment and rolled.
    The report into the accident, compiled by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Forestry, found that Trader had limited experience with the rig — in fact, he was on his first documented run with the privately owned water tender and had received his commercial driver's license just the week before.
    The report also found that the rig was overweight and had inadequate brakes.
    The 1966 truck was operated by County Fire of Merlin and was partly owned by Trader's uncle, Dan Trader, according to a report in the Grants Pass Daily Courier newspaper. Ace Earthmoving of Grants Pass was listed as owner.
    The report said the tanker had rear brakes only. Firefighters who witnessed the crash said they smelled hot brakes and saw smoke coming from the rear of the truck as it gathered speed and Trader tried to keep the rig under control on a downhill stretch.
    In addition, the report said, the tanker had been put to work on the fire even though records from the vendor showed that its fully loaded weight was 55,320 pounds — nearly three tons above the weight specified in fire contracting rules.
    The agencies that produced the report said its purpose was to prevent future accidents like this one, not to assign blame in this particular case.
    The report proposes, for example, that tankers used on fires in the future have brakes on all their axles, as well as compression engine brakes, devices that allow a diesel engine to release compressed air from the cylinders to slow itself. Those seem like sensible reforms.
    But fire officials also need to review their inspection procedures, which in this case allowed an overweight truck to be pressed into service in hazardous conditions, with tragic results.
    By its nature, firefighting is chaotic and dangerous work; there's no way to take all the risk out of it. But that's all the more reason to be certain that fire managers have adequate procedures in place to help reduce the risks that are under our control, at least to some extent.
    Reviewing and overhauling those procedures now, before the 2014 fire season really roars into life across the United States, may help ensure that other families and communities won't have to grieve the loss of one of their own.
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