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February 11, 2014
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Eagle County emergency vehicles being hit at accident scenes

EAGLE COUNTY — Fire trucks seem easy enough to spot from a distance — they’re big and have flashing lights. Trucks in the state’s snowplow fleet are big and have flashing lights, and police cars are generally lit up like an Eastern European disco when parked for official business. And yet ...

Four of the Vail Valley’s “first responder” agencies have had five vehicles hit while at accident scenes so far this winter. No serious injuries have been reported — yet. The Eagle River Fire Protection District had a fire truck and a “command vehicle” taken out of service by crashes at accident scenes. The Vail Fire Department had one of its main trucks knocked out of service Sunday while at an accident scene at the base of Vail Pass.

The truck was parked in the left lane of Interstate 70, blocking the lane so an accident could be cleared. Just as the fire truck’s driver was getting out, he noticed a car that had driven past other stopped traffic moving toward his vehicle. The firefighter escaped serious injury when he jumped back into the truck just before it was hit.

Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller hadn’t seen repair estimates yet, but guessed damage to the truck would add up to as much as $20,000. The truck will also be unusable until it’s fixed, putting the Vail Fire Department in an equipment bind.

The Eagle River Fire Protection District has been without one of its main trucks since it was hit in December at an accident scene between Edwards and Wolcott.

Gail McFarland, of the Eagle River Fire Protection District, said that truck will be out of service for the foreseeable future. It can take between six and eight months to have a new truck delivered, she said. Fixing a truck also requires a lot of time.

Besides those vehicles, Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Crystal Morgan said that agency has had several snowplows hit by other vehicles this winter.

‘PEOPLE DON’T LOOK AHEAD’

Asked what might be causing drivers to apparently develop brain lock, people interviewed for this story didn’t have answers but made some educated guesses.

“It seems like people aren’t paying attention to the road conditions — people don’t look ahead when they’re driving,” McFarland said. “Other people may be renting four-wheel-drive vehicles.”

While this winter’s accidents have all occurred during storms or on icy roads, Colorado State Patrol Sgt. Mike Baker said blaming the weather doesn’t sit well with many people.

“We hear a lot of excuses,” Baker said. “But people need to take responsibilities for their actions. ... There’s no excuse for this.”

The real cause, he said, its inattentive or careless driving.

Baker, who’s based in Denver, said several State Patrol cars have been hit while stopped on the roadside. And while no one has been seriously injured in this part of the state, Baker said the simple truth is “we’ve been fortunate.”

Like McFarland, Baker urged motorists to look beyond the end of their vehicles’ hoods at the road ahead.

“That’s one of the things we teach our officers — to look as far ahead as you can,” he said.

In response to this winter’s rash of car on official vehicle accidents, the state patrol will hold a news conference later this week. And McFarland said emergency agencies throughout the county are now working on a new “incident management plan” to help keep cops, firefighters and others safe at accident scenes. There’s also a statewide effort to look at ways to help get out the word to motorists that they need to watch out for large vehicles with flashing lights — especially during snowstorms.


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The VailDaily Updated Feb 12, 2014 01:17AM Published Feb 11, 2014 06:15PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.