Rescuers survive near-miss at crash site

A Kentwood fire engine was hit by a Buick Friday while firefighters responded to a crash. (Feb. 14, 2014)

KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — The only thing standing between fender-bender and tragedy was a large, red fire engine in Kentwood Friday.

A routine, two-vehicle accident at the corner of Walma Avenue and 44th Street brought the Kentwood Fire Department, Kentwood police and an EMS crews to the scene.

The accident was in the middle of the eastbound lanes of 44th Street. Firefighters aboard Kentwood Engine 51 blocked the west side of the intersection.

“Part of our procedure is we block where we’re working so all of the first responders, police, fire, EMS, are protected,” said Kentwood Fire Department Deputy Chief Gregg Ginebaugh.

Suddenly, an eastbound Buick driven by a Grand Rapids woman showed just how critical that protection can be.

The driver, who told officers she had blacked out, struck the side of the Kentwood fire engine. The driver, as well as the people in the initial crash, were not seriously injured. 24 Hour News 8 checked the driving history of the driver of the Buick, and found her record is clean.

About half a dozen emergency workers on the other side of that truck were unaware of the danger as they tended to the victims of the first crash.

When most people think of the dangers that firefighters face, it usually involves them running into a burning building.

But in 2012, motor vehicle accidents — including firefighters being struck while at the scene of a crash — killed 18 firefighters across the country, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

It’s one of the more unknown, yet realistic dangers, faced by firefighters and other emergency responders every day.

“Especially on the freeways,” Ginebaugh said. “When you look at some of the studies, especially out west, there are firefighters that are killed because they’re working in traffic.”

Damage to a fire engine, which costs taxpayers around $500,000 to buy, looks pretty minor. But can be costly as well.

In 2011, after spending about $150,000 to repair various fire trucks hit while blocking accidents on the expressway, Grand Rapids Fire Department officials snatched up a city water department dump truck set for auction, and along with an insurance industry grant, they came up with a money-saving solution.

The dump truck was painted fire-department red, emergency lights were added along with a large, flashing traffic arrow, and a trailer-mounted, giant shock absorber was installed to take the impact of vehicles that drive into crash scenes.

No tax dollars were used to build the truck, which was designated “Utility Two” on the fire department radio.

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