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OCTOBER 13, 2004


Whitehead Road,
Lawrence Township

During the afternoon of Wednesday, October 13, 2004, Lawrence Road Fire Co. volunteers helped rescue a man who was trapped in the cab of his overturned gasoline tanker. As gas leaked from the tanker and flammable fumes accumulated around them, volunteers from all three Lawrence Township fire companies worked together to extricate the man from the wreckage as crews of other firefighters sprayed foam on the them and the leaking tanker.

The incident last more than nine hours and necessitated a mutual aid response of foam units from as far away as Carteret Borough from Middlesex County.

The accident started around 3:15 p.m. as the tractor-trailer style tanker was exiting the northbound side of the Route 1 Freeway at Whitehead Road. The tanker, owned by Riggins Trucking from Vineland, was driven by 28-year-old Jeffrey E. Lacy of Cedarville, a part of Cumberland County’s Lawrence Township, according to police.

Lacy had just finished making a gasoline delivery to a Road Runner gas station on Brunswick Avenue in Trenton. Although the tanker had a 8,500-gallon capacity it only contained an estimated 4,500 gallons of gasoline when it left Trenton.

Police said Lacy lost control of the tanker while allegedly traveling too fast while negotiating the curve on the exit ramp from Route 1. The rig suddenly flipped and came to rest on the passenger side atop the metal guardrail separating the ramp from the embankment leading down to the Assunpink Creek. A street lamp post was also toppled and came to rest against a tree. During the rollover Lacy was tossed from his seat into the sleeping section at the rear of the cab and became trapped when a section of the cab was crushed.

It was around 3:20 p.m. when someone ran into the Perry Street headquarters of the Trenton Fire Department and notified personnel there that a tractor trailer had overturned on the Whitehead Road exit ramp from Route 1 and that an unknown product was leaking from the flipped rig. Trenton firefighters immediately notified Mercer County Central Communications Center and Lawrence Township police.

At the time, all three Lawrence Township fire companies and the duty crew from Lawrence First Aid Squad were in the process of responding to Lawrence Plaza apartments at 2350 Princeton Pike for a fire alarm system malfunction that had been reported at 3:23 p.m.

Engine 22 signed on radio to respond to Lawrence Plaza just as Ambulance 129-3 advised Mercer County Central by radio that they were rerouting from the alarm to a reported overturned tractor-trailer on Whitehead Road.

Hearing the ambulance crew’s report of a rollover, Engine 22’s crew never left the firehouse and instead immediately switched apparatus. Lt. Michael Ratcliffe radioed Mercer County Central at 3:27 p.m. to place Engine 22 back in quarters, off the Lawrence Plaza run, and to log Rescue 22 as responding to the accident.

With Ratcliffe in command, Rescue 22 was driven by Paid Driver Robert Santello and crewed by Ff. Evan Kutzin, Ff. Ryan Dlabik and Junior Ff. Chris Laird.

At 3:28 p.m., Mercer County Central officially transmitted Box 21-10 and toned out the Slackwood, Lawrence Road and Lawrenceville fire companies for the MVA.

Deputy Chief Wayne Hannon (who had been enroute to Lawrence Plaza) detoured to Whitehead Road at 3:29 p.m. Engine 21 and Rescue 23 also responded at 3:29 p.m. Hannon arrived on scene at 3:31 p.m. and reported he had an overturned tanker truck with confirmed entrapment. Engine 21 and Rescue 22 also arrived at 3:31 p.m.

At that time, Trenton’s HazMat task force of Rescue 1, Engine 1, Ladder 1, and a battalion chief were dispatched at Slackwood Chief Mark Lenarski’s request.

While Rescue 22’s crew deployed their Holmatro rescue tools in preparation for extricating the trapped driver, Hannon (having learned that the product leaking from the tanker was gasoline) immediately ordered Engine 21’s crew to stretch a hoseline and begin spraying a blanket of foam around the flipped tanker. Hannon also ordered Rescue 22’s crew to don breathing apparatus as a precaution.

Kutzin, backed up by Ratcliffe and Lawrenceville Capt. Butch Bentley, used the Combi-Tool to cut away part of the frame of the cab’s passenger’s side door.

Then, at the direction of Slackwood Deputy Chief Michael Oakley, all personnel were ordered to back up away from the tanker to await the arrival of additional apparatus and the deployment of extra foam lines. Rescue 22 was repositioned at that time farther down the exit ramp away from the overturned tanker.

The state Department of Transportation was also immediately contacted to shut off power to the destroyed street lamp post to prevent sparks.

Township police, meanwhile, completely closed Route 1 and Whitehead Road and detoured traffic away from the scene. (The road closures later caused a traffic nightmare during the evening rush-hour).

Engine 21-1 (which had originally responded to the Lawrence Plaza run) arrived on scene at 3:33 p.m., followed one minute later by Ladder Tower 23 (which also had responded to the alarm at the senior citizens’ apartment building). Rescue 23 arrived at 3:36 p.m.

Also at about 3:36 p.m., Mercer County Fire Coordinator John Kubilewicz and the Mercer County Office of Emergency Management were notified of the incident.

Trenton Fire Department’s HazMat task force arrived about then, however the exact time was not logged.

At 3:41 p.m., Hamilton and Enterprise fire companies were dispatched by Mercer County Central following Lenarski’s request for two mutual aid engines. Also at 3:41 p.m. Lenarski requested that representatives from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection respond to the scene.

Engine 14-1 reached the scene about 3:43 p.m., followed by Engine 14-2 at 3:45 p.m. Both units staged in the Ewing Lawrence Sewerage Authority parking lot.

A large diameter hoseline was quickly laid by Engine 21-1 to a hydrant on Whitehead Road near Sweet Briar Avenue to supply Rescue 22, which had deployed a 2.5-inch hoseline and a 1.75-inch hoseline. Meanwhile, another 1.75-inch hoseline had been stretched from Engine 21, which was supplied by Rescue 22 via a 3-inch line.

Once the hoselines were in place, charged with foam, and manned by Slackwood firefighters and crews from Ladder Tower 23 and the Hamilton engines, Rescue 22’s crew went back to work with Rescue 23’s crew and several Slackwood firefighters to extricate the trapped driver.

At 3:46 p.m., Lenarski advised Mercer County Central that extrication efforts were again underway, with a precautionary foam blanket being laid. At 3:47 p.m., Lenarski special-requested that one of the foam tenders from Trenton-Mercer Airport’s crash-fire-rescue unit respond to the scene.

The airport’s Engine 34-4 and Reserve Engine 21-1 both responded at 3:50 p.m. Telesquirt 23, meanwhile, signed on radio at 3:52 p.m.

Kubilewicz and Reserve Engine 21-1 both arrived at 3:52 p.m. Telesquirt 23 and Engine 34-4 both arrived by 4:02 p.m. (Engine 34-4 staged at the top of the ramp and a 3-inch supply line was stretched to it from Rescue 22.)

At the request of the Trenton Haz-Mat task force, Hamilton Township’s HazMat team was dispatched at 4 p.m. to assist with operations. Also dispatched at 4:02 p.m. at Lenarski’s request was Trenton Emergency Medical Service’s mass casualty EMS trailer.

As a precaution, Hamilton police and additional Station 14 firefighters started to evacuate dozens of homes located near the Assunpink Creek in Hamilton Township. Evacuees were told to report to Station 14-1.

With flammable fumes accumulating all around and foam being sprayed on them and the tanker, Hannon, Ratcliffe, Kutzin and Dlabik worked with Bentley, Lawrenceville Ff. Scott Kivet, Slackwood Ff. Ken Kandrac and others to free Lacy. Firefighters used the Holmatro tools off Rescue 22 and Rescue 23, along with a brake pedal cutter, sawzalls, an air chisel and other equipment, to cut the gear shifts, steering wheel and the crushed metal of the cab away from the trapped man. Rams were then used to push the metal even further away from him.

Lacy was finally extricated by 4:05 p.m. and immediately rushed by Squad 129 ambulance to the trauma center at Capital Health System at Fuld hospital in Trenton, where doctors discovered that his injuries were surprisingly not life-threatening.

Once the extrication was completed, apparatus was relocated farther away from the tanker and incident commanders planned their next move. The HazMat teams, meanwhile, spread booms and pads along the creek to absorb the spilled gasoline and used gas meters to constantly monitor the air quality in the area.

At 4:12 p.m., the airport’s Chief 34 requested that a task force of foam supplies from the Suburban Chiefs Association be relocated to standby at the John T. Dempster Sr. Fire Service Training Center in Lawrence.

At 5:08 p.m., the Suburban Chiefs Association foam task force was requested to the scene. Responding from the fire academy were: Tac 42 from East Windsor, Utility 43 from West Windsor and a unit from Allentown’s Station 82-1.

During the apparatus relocations, Rescue 22 moved to the top of the exit ramp. Hoselines were rearranged so Rescue 22 continued to be supplied by Engine 21-1 and, in turn, continued to supply the airport’s foam tender.

Telesquirt 23, meanwhile, was repositioned to the northbound lanes of Route 1 on the overpass over Whitehead Road. It’s stick was raised into a position where its master stream could be used immediately if needed. A large diameter line was laid by Hamilton firefighters on the far side of Whitehead Road and hand-stretched up the southbound lanes of Route 1 and over the closed highway’s concrete divider to supply Telesquirt 23.

It was around this time that Ff. Walter Hlewicki and Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr. (who had responded to the scene with Utility 22) met up with Rescue 22’s crew.

When the Suburban Chiefs foam supplies arrived (accessing the scene from Route 1), Lawrence Road firefighters helped carry 5-gallon foam canisters over to Engine 34-4.

Hlewicki climbed to the top of Engine 34-4 and dumped the contents of more than a dozen of the canisters into the foam tank as Engine 34-4’s deck gun coated the entire overturned tanker with a thick blanket of foam.

Once the tanker was covered with an adequate amount of foam, Engine 34-4 shut down its gun and HazMat and DEP personnel approached the tanker to investigate its condition and the extent of the leak.

At 5:14 p.m. Kubilewicz ordered Mercer County Central to contact Burlington County with a request for a mutual aid foam task force to respond to the Dempster Center to standby. Units that responded included apparatus from Jacobstown, Florence and Cinnaminson. Eventually, Foam Pumper 3-7 from the Carteret Fire Department of Middlesex County was also called down to Mercer County.

All those foam units were later moved up to the scene around 7:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Signal 22 canteen from Trenton (which had been dispatched at 4:31 p.m. at Lenarski’s request) reached the scene at 5:33 p.m.

Around 6 p.m. Ratcliffe (who had to leave to go to work) and Laird left the scene and returned to Station 22 in Utility 22. Lt. Michael Byrd and Ff. David Veres then reported to the scene in Utility 22 to join Rescue 22’s crew. Chief John Fleming also later reported to the scene in Car 22.

At 6:29 p.m., Special Services 18 from Colonial Fire Co. and Light Plant 31 from Prospect Heights Fire Co. were dispatched to the scene for lighting. SS18 responded at 6:37 p.m. and arrived at 6:44 p.m., while Light Plant 31 responded at 6:38 p.m. and arrived at 6:45 p.m. Special Services 15 from DeCou Hose Co. was also dispatched at 7:06 p.m. to provided lighting. SS15 responded at 7:10 p.m. and arrived at 7:21 p.m.

Also at 7:11 p.m., Trenton Fire Department’s fuel car was special-called to the scene to refuel apparatus.

At 7:30 p.m., a Riggins Trucking tanker arrived on scene. Work then commenced on offloading the gasoline out of the overturned tanker and into the new rig. Firefighters, including Lawrence Road personnel, took turns standing by on the hoselines during the offloading process.

Tac 14 from Hamilton Fire Co. was special called to the scene at 8:46 p.m. for additional lighting. Tac 14 responded at 8:48 p.m. and arrived at 8:55 p.m.

Of the 4,500 gallons of gasoline that had been in the overturned tanker, about 2,000 gallons was offloaded into the new rig. Authorities estimated that the remaining 2,500 gallons had leaked into the Assunpink Creek and into the soil of the creek’s embankment.

Once the all the fuel was removed from the overturned rig, heavy duty wreckers from Haines Towing worked to upright the tanker. It was around midnight when the rig was uprighted. Starting at about 12:15 a.m., Lenarski slowly started releasing units. Route 1 was reopened to traffic at 12:45 a.m. All units were clear of the scene by 1 a.m. Rescue 22, which left the scene at 12:53 a.m., was back in quarters by 1:03 a.m.

(A total of 400 feet of 3-inch hose, 200 feet of 2.5-inch hose, and 200 feet of 1.75-inch hose was used from Rescue 22 during the incident.)

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