Rapid Response: Volunteer apparatus operation can be high risk, low frequency

Weather and rural road conditions were factors in an apparatus crash that killed two firefighters and injured three

What happened: On March 24, 2018, while responding to a motor vehicle crash on the West Virginia Turnpike, two members of the Pratt (W.Va.) Volunteer Fire Department were killed, and three others injured – two seriously – when the fire apparatus they were responding on went off the edge of the hard-surface road and struck a stone mountainside just a few feet off the pavement.

The crash occurred on W.Va. State Route 83 (Paint Creek Road) a road that – like many in West Virginia – follows the flat land running alongside a creek or river. These roads typically have no shoulder and the ditch line is adjacent to the pavement. Weather conditions were overcast, occasional snow showers with temperatures in the upper 30s. At the time of the crash, the firefighters had been traveling on Paint Creek Road for approximately three-plus miles.

Why it's significant: Pratt is a small town (population of 602) located in eastern Kanawha County along the Kanawha River. Like many volunteer fire departments in the U.S., the Pratt Volunteer Fire Department is a key organization in a close-knit community. Its membership is small, and active not only in the fire department, but in the local schools, churches and other civic organizations in the community.

The impact of these deaths and injuries will be felt in the community for many years to come. The immediate impact is that five key members – one of the seriously injured was the fire chief – are out of service to the fire department and the community. For any small volunteer fire department, this negative impact on its ability to serve its community can be a tremendous challenge to overcome. In this case, surrounding volunteer fire departments in Kanawha County are marshalling their resources to provide fire protection in Pratt.

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