Follow-up on Oklahoma fatality

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On Sunday we covered the January 3 fatality in Oklahoma involving the father and son firefighters who collided head-on in dense smoke, killing the father, John C. Myers of the Wesley Fire Department. Our hearts go out for the families and the Wesley Fire Department as they try to process this tragedy.

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight one could say that every accident is preventable, but this incident has provoked a great deal of behind the scenes discussion. If there is a formal investigation other than that conducted by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, they will attempt to determine what factors may have contributed, such as speed, road surface, visibility, condition of drivers, values at risk, pressure to quickly suppress the fire, skill, training, and experience of the drivers, the vehicles, communications, fire behavior, human factors, or the fact that none of the victims used seat belts.

The McAlester News-Capital has more information about Mr. Myers and the accident:

Fallen firefighter was always there to help his neighbors
By James Beaty
Senior Editor

He’s being remembered as a hero.

John C. “J.C.” Myers, 61, of rural Pittsburg, died Saturday in a head-on collision while driving a fire truck on a smoke-covered road during a wildfire in the rural Wesley community in Atoka County.

Myers served as a volunteer firefighter with the rural Union Chapel Fire Department, which is just across the Pittsburg County line from Wesley. The pickup he drove and a pickup driven by his son, Juston Myers, 31, collided, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

The fire covered 226 acres before it was contained and resulted from an undetermined cause, according to fire officials.

Some of those who knew Myers remember him as a remarkable man.

“J.C. was the type of guy who that loved people,” said Kiowa Fire Chief M.A. Danley. “He was real dedicated.”

Donna Danley, who is married to M.A. Danley, also knew Myers.

“J.C. was a good man, a good person,” she said. “He was always helping the community.”

Pittsburg Assistant Fire Chief Ronnie Rice had been among the first to arrive at the scene. His son, Clayton Rice, was a passenger in Juston Myers’ pickup and had been injured in the crash. The two were on their way to help fight the fire when the collision occurred, Ronnie Rice said.

Following the accident, Clayton Rice was transported to the McAlester Regional Health Center, where he was reported in good condition, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said.

Ronnie Rice said his son is recovering, but will likely have surgery and may be transferred to a Tulsa hospital.

Rice said he had grown up with J.C. Myers.

“He was as likable a fellow as you ever come across and he’d help anybody,” Rice said.

“He was really dedicated and highly respected.”

In addition to the personal loss to Myers’ family and friends, his firefighting abilities will also be missed.

“It will be not only a great loss to his fire department, but to ours,” Rice said. Because fire departments in the area answer each other’s calls for assistance, firefighters from different departments often battle blazes side-by-side.

To help keep firefighters safer, the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant plans to hold a seminar in March in conjunction with Oklahoma State University, said Don Kapps, who is the fire chief at McAAP, as well as the fire chief of the Savanna Volunteer Fire Department. It will cover safety skills and techniques when battling fires, including wildfires.

Sometimes more than skill is needed.

Many times, volunteer firefighters don’t have the same quality of protective clothing and other gear used by full-time professional firefighters, even though they must face the same dangers, Capps said on Monday.

Other dangerous situations can result from volunteer firefighters using converted military vehicles to haul water in to fight grassfires or other wildfires, Capps said.

Such vehicles often don’t have the proper baffles in a tank, Capps said, referring to chambers in a tank which can keep a heavy load of water from shifting too rapidly. Many times the water tanks used now by volunteer firefighters are bought commercially from a store and are similar those made for farm or ranch use.

Capps said he and the other volunteer firefighters do the best they can with the equipment they have.