A motorist was injured and four Charlotte firefighters went to the hospital after a firetruck collided head-on with an SUV Monday while traveling against traffic.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are investigating the crash that closed South Boulevard for about an hour. Neither agency could say if charges would be filed or confirm whether the firetruck driver followed department policies when he drove on the wrong side of the road to answer the call.
Firefighters are allowed to cross into opposite lanes if they've determined it's safe to do so when responding to an emergency.
“We take our response and safety of the community and the firefighters very seriously,” fire Capt. Rob Brisley said. He referred specific questions about the wreck to the investigating CMPD officer, who could not be reached Monday.
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A police department spokesman also had no information but said a detailed report would be available in 48 to 72 hours.
The state Highway Patrol was dispatched at 10:13 a.m. to a report of a two-car wreck with injuries in the northbound lanes of Interstate 77 near the South Tryon Street exit, a Highway Patrol dispatcher said. Two Charlotte Fire Department engines from separate stations were dispatched to assist, which is common for highway accidents, Brisley told the Observer.
Both firetrucks were traveling to the scene with their red lights and sirens on.
The firetruck from the station on Inwood Drive turned right onto South Boulevard and headed north toward Woodlawn. To get through the congested intersection, the firetruck driver crossed onto the inside of the southbound lanes.
“After ensuring the southbound lane was clear, the driver crossed the center line of traffic to carefully approach the intersection,” Brisley said.
The firetruck heading north in the southbound lanes collided with the sport utility vehicle after it turned right from Woodlawn onto South Boulevard.
It was unclear how fast the firetruck or SUV were traveling when the collision occurred.
Firefighters jumped from their damaged truck to help the driver, whose name and age have not been released by police. He was taken to Presbyterian Hospital, and his condition was not available. The four firefighters were treated on the scene and taken to the hospital for observation, Brisley said.
The trooper who responded to the accident on I-77 never located a wreck and stopped looking about 11 a.m. The initial call had been forwarded from CMPD to state troopers, the Highway Patrol dispatcher said. No more information was available.
State statute allows for firefighting vehicles to cross a median and allows for driving the wrong way if the circumstances permit as long as the driver maintains the safety of others.
Firetrucks also are allowed to travel above the posted speed limit while responding to an emergency if they can maintain the safety of others on the road, according to the fire department's emergency response policy.
Motorists also have a responsibility to help emergency vehicles responding to calls.
State law says they must yield the right-of-way to police and fire department vehicles and to public and private ambulances when they have audible sirens, bells or whistles, according to the fire department's policy.
“As the city grows there is more congestion and it's becoming more of a challenge to get that firetruck to that call for service,” Brisley said. “We are grateful these kinds of crashes are rare.”
Firefighting expert Carl Peterson of the National Fire Protection Association, which develops firefighting codes and standards, says that whether firefighters are going through an intersection or traveling on the wrong side of the road, they need to be able to account for all traffic.
“You need to be able to be sure you can account for them and – through some sort of visual indication – that they see you,” Peterson said. “It's so important that the oncoming traffic is aware that you're there and take evasive action.”
In addition to the CMPD wreck investigation, the fire department will review the circumstances to determine whether policies were followed, he said.
“If there is a lesson to be learned – we'll share it,” Brisley said.