Engine rollover on Hauser Road

There were two minor injuries among the three-person crew

Forest Service fire engine rollover accident

Above: photo from the report.

(Originally published at 4:40 p.m. November 27, 2017)

An engine carrying three wildland firefighters slid off a muddy road September 12, 2017 and rolled over two-and-a-half times when they were returning from a smoke check. Considering the violent accident, the injuries were minor — a laceration on one person and a broken rib on another.

The report released by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center does not specify where the the rollover occurred, except that the crew was returning to Montrose, Colorado, an investigator came from Grand Junction, and it also mentioned a couple of landmarks, if true, that are known only to locals, such as Hauser Road.

The truck was a U.S. Forest Service Ford F-550 configured as a Type 6 engine which sustained major damage. The roof partially collapsed, crushing some of the side windows:

…the crew barely had enough room to crawl out the opening with metal scraping against their backs and stomachs.

The damage to the truck and the injuries to the firefighters might have been worse if the truck had not had the “Rear Cab Protection Rack (headache rack)”, a structure behind the cab. But apparently it did not have a full cab roll bar. (UPDATE November 30, 2017: the report lists the headache rack under “What went well”, but does not elaborate. These structures are designed to hold lights and to prevent cargo from sliding forward through the rear window, but should not be expected to provide serious protection during a rollover. We added the next photo that was included in the report, which offered no caption or explanation. It is unknown if it shows the engine involved in the rollover.)

Headache Rack
Headache rack, intended to provide a location to install lights, and to prevent cargo from sliding forward through the rear window.
fire engine accident rollover colorado
Photo from the report.

Below is an excerpt from the report; it begins as the truck was sliding on the muddy road:

Engine 36’s passenger-side front wheel slid toward the edge. Everyone braced for the expected bump into the lip of the road. However nothing was there to slow the engine’s slide to the right and the front wheel went off the road, followed by the rest of Engine 36.

The engine violently rolled two-and-a-half times down the embankment, gaining speed with each rotation. “When will this end!” the Engine Captain thought to himself as glass shattered, metal crumpled and screeched, and the world spun end over end.

Engine 36 came to rest on its roof, braced against large trunks of oak brush. Everything in the cab came to a stop. A muffled and intermittently eerie buzzing came from the horn. Water hissed. As the crew steadied themselves, calling out to check the status of each other, a loud “pop” from the roof was heard.

As they felt the vehicle’s cab start to give a little bit, the decision was made to exit as quickly as possible. The curtain airbags were still partially inflated. Captain 36 had to deflate them with his personal knife. Exiting out the passenger side window, the crew barely had enough room to crawl out the opening with metal scraping against their backs and stomachs.

There has been an epidemic of wildland fire engine rollovers. This is the 48th article on Wildfire Today tagged “rollover”.

We still stand behind what we wrote in a 2015 article about the many firefighter fatalities from rollovers:

The wildland fire agencies should fund research conducted by engineers to determine how to prevent the passenger compartments in their fire engines from collapsing in accidents.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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11 thoughts on “Engine rollover on Hauser Road”

  1. One tried-and-true method of preventing cabin collapse is an exoskeleton: essentially a rollcage on the OUTSIDE of the sheet metal. It has been used successfully in rock-climbing trucks for years. An added benefit would be vehicle protection from small tree damage should one fall on the cab, thereby potentially saving the dept/agency asset downtime and repair budget funds. More importantly: protecting the persononnel inside.

    1. We should have these on all of the trucks then! Is it a $ issue? Thank God these guys are okay – please let it be a Lesson Learned and keep our people as safe as we possibly can; otherwise, what’s the purpose of Lesson Learned? I’m not intending to be negative; just freaking out about what could have happened here….

  2. We put people all the time who struggle to drive a Prius behind the wheel of large, top heavy vehicles in stressful situations, under less than ideal conditions and wonder why this still occurs?

  3. Build the cab like a school bus strength it’s pretty strong although when you have a tanker that water is just so heavy! More driver training hours needed too & mandatory time off for the drivers.

  4. I worked on the Uncompahgre plateau years ago. It was well known that the roads would become extremely slick when wet. We either used tire chains or waited an hour or two for the road to dry out. Why couldn’t this crew have waited until the road dried out? This isn’t mentioned in the investigation; the best thing to do is avoid the roll-over situation.

  5. Matt said: Speed was not a factor. I have to weigh in on this…One has to drive according to the conditions. John said: It was well known that the roads would become extremely slick when wet. If a dry road can be driven safely at a certain speed it doesn’t mean you can go that same speed on a wet road.

  6. FYI: we added this to the article, along with a photo of a FS headache rack:

    (UPDATE November 30, 2017: the report lists the headache rack under “What went well”, but does not elaborate. These structures are designed to hold lights and to prevent cargo from sliding forward through the rear window, but are not strong enough to provide serious protection during a rollover. We added the next photo that was included in the report, which offered no caption or explanation. It is unknown if it shows the engine involved in the rollover.)

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