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JANUARY 27, 2006


Interstate 95 between Federal City Road
and Lawrence Road exits, Lawrence Township

Lawrence Road Fire Co. volunteers were among the emergency personnel who, during the evening of Friday, January 27, 2006, responded to a nasty collision on Interstate 95 between a full-sized tractor trailer and a four-door Lexus.

Two women were heavily entrapped in the car and had to be extricated by firefighters.

The accident occurred shortly before 8:30 p.m. on Interstate 95, between the Federal City Road and Lawrence Road (Route 206) exits, when the southbound Lexus veered out of the lanes of travel and entered the highway’s grass-covered median, state police said.

The Lexus, occupied by three 20-year-old women from Plainsboro, traveled along the median for about 100 yards before it slammed almost head-on into a northbound tractor-trailer whose driver reportedly swerved the big rig into the median in an unsuccessful effort to avoid the oncoming car, state police said.

The front of the tractor came to rest atop the front of the car, trapping the driver and the front passenger. The woman who was riding in the rear was able to get out of the wreckage.

It was 8:30 p.m. when Mercer County Central Communications Center transmitted Box 23-10. Dispatched at that time were Lawrenceville Fire Co. (Station 23), Rescue 22 from Lawrence Road Fire Co., and Rescue 21 from Slackwood Fire Co.

Also dispatched were multiple ambulances and paramedic crews.

Lawrenceville Chief Dave Burns signed on radio at 8:31 p.m. and arrived on scene about a minute later.

Burns confirmed that there were two people heavily entrapped in the car, and ordered Mercer County Central to dispatch an extra rescue company to the scene as a precaution.

At 8:33 p.m., Rescue 32 from Ewing Township’s Pennington Road Fire Co. was alerted.

Apparatus response times were as follows: Rescue 23, Rescue 22 and Rescue 21 all at 8:33 p.m.; Rescue 32 at 8:35 p.m.; and Telesquirt 23 at 8:36 p.m.

Rescue 22 was commanded by Capt. Michael Ratcliffe, driven by Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr., and crewed by Ff. Martin Burch, Ff. Brain Laue, Ff. R.J. Laird, Ff. Evan Kutzin, Ff. Charles Commini Jr., and Ff. Jarred Pierson.

Lawrence Road Deputy Chief Chris Pangaldi, traveling in Car 22-1, arrived on location at 8:33 p.m., while Lawrence Road Chief Wayne Hannon, in Car 22, arrived two minutes later.

Rescue 23 arrived on scene at 8:34 p.m., followed by Rescue 22 at 8:37 p.m., Telesquirt 23 at 8:38 p.m., Rescue 32 at 8:39 p.m., and Rescue 21 at 8:39 p.m.

All Lawrence Township apparatus took up positions in the left southbound lane as close as possible to the accident scene, while Rescue 32 set up in the left northbound lane.

EMS personnel immediately began to treat the rear passenger, who was already out of the wreckage, while firefighters started to extricate the other two trapped women.

Burns ordered Station 23 and Rescue 21 personnel to work on the passenger’s side of the Lexus, and directed the crews from Rescue 22 and Rescue 32 to concentrate on the driver’s side.

A 1.75-inch hoseline from Rescue 23 was stretched into a position to protect rescuers and the women. Commini was ordered to don SCBA and help a Station 23 member man the hoseline.

Firefighters using a combination of Holmatro and Hurst rescue tools quickly removed three of the Lexus’ four doors and the entire roof.

The front passenger was removed from the wreckage by 8:46 p.m. and placed in the care of EMS personnel.

Efforts, meanwhile, continued on extricating the driver, whose lower body was pinned by the crumpled dashboard.

Most of the driver’s door was cut away and multiple rams were used in an effort to lift the dashboard and steering column up off the driver.

However, the weight of the tractor’s engine block sitting atop the front of the car made it impossible to raise the dashboard enough to free the woman.

The woman’s condition was rapidly deteriorating, forcing paramedics to start an IV while she was still trapped.

While everyone else continued to work with rams and spreaders in a desperate effort to save the woman, half of Rescue 22’s crew started to work on a plan to use airbags to lift the front of the tractor to relieve the weight sitting on the Lexus.

Using a sawzall, firefighters cut away part of bottom of the tractor, being careful to avoid the nearby saddle fuel tank. Once a large enough space was made, Laue was able to reach under, stack up some cribbing and position a large airbag directly under the tractor’s front axle.

The airbag was inflated, raising the tractor just a few inches.

But that was enough the relieve the tractor’s weight from the Lexus and firefighters were then able to use the rams to life the dashboard far enough so the woman could be pulled free.

After a tremendously difficult extrication, she was removed from the car at 9:36 p.m. and rushed by ambulance to the trauma unit at Capital Health System at Fuld hospital in Trenton.

(The Lexus’ two passengers had already been transported by ambulance to Fuld by that time.)

She and the front passenger were admitted to the hospital in extremely critical condition, while the rear passenger was admitted in stable condition and then released a few days later.

The tractor-trailer’s driver, a 27-year-old man from Missouri, reportedly suffered only minor injuries, and his passenger, a 46-year-old man from Indiana, was not hurt.

Rescue 21 was recalled at 10:06 p.m., while Rescue 32 and Rescue 22 were released at 10:16 p.m. All Station 23 apparatus cleared the scene by 10:29 p.m.

Rescue 22 was back in quarters by 10:23 p.m.

(During the incident, Pennington Borough’s Rescue 51 was relocated to stand by at the Lawrence Road firehouse to provide rescue coverage to Lawrence Township.)

All photos copyright (c) 2006 by Michael Ratcliffe.

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