Dispatch audio: Texas first responders hampered by ice after 133-vehicle pileup

Firefighters struggled to maneuver apparatus and calls were made to deliver sand and kitty litter for the roads


Nichole Manna and Luke Ranker
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas — First responders slipped on ice and scrambled to find kitty litter or sand as they attempted to rescue people after a 133-car pileup on Interstate 35W north of downtown Fort Worth in the early morning hours of Feb. 11.

Two and a half hours of audio from scanner audio reveals a chaotic scene that was handled by dozens of calm first responders, from firefighters and paramedics to police and dispatchers. The audio, from the Fort Worth Fire Department, was obtained by the Star-Telegram through an open records request.

Dispatch records show how Fort Worth first responders struggled with icy conditions when responding to a fatal 133-vehicle pileup in February.
Dispatch records show how Fort Worth first responders struggled with icy conditions when responding to a fatal 133-vehicle pileup in February. (Photo/Fort Worth Fire Department)

The audio is divided into four files and not time-stamped, making it difficult to determine the timeline of the radio traffic.

First responders are heard dozens times warning of the slippery conditions.

At least one firefighter was tasked with calling every station to ask if they had kitty litter to send to the scene. One person used his personal vehicle to deliver pallets of litter to the highway because firetrucks and other engines were already at the crash site.

"Everything is iced, we need major help with some sand trucks or something, we can't even get fire trucks in and out of there," one man is heard saying.

As firefighters evaluated each vehicle, they began to call for extra extraction equipment.

"We're going to need every truck that has tools out here. We have people trapped in numerous vehicles," one man said. "Heavy entrapment."

But crews arriving on scene were unable to get to trapped motorists because of the heavy ice. Firefighters began to walk tools and other equipment to the crash site.

"We're going bring our tools down that," one firefighter said. "We're on the toll, walking down this bridge."

At one point first responders are heard requesting the status of a rescue helicopter. Later they are told it can't fly because of the weather.

Investigations into the pileup, which killed six people, will focus on ice and speed, officials have said.

The pileup began after what appeared to be a brief freezing rain shower left a layer of ice on the TEXpress toll lanes of I-35W.

Video shot by passers-by and shared on social media showed numerous cars, SUVs and 18-wheelers losing control as they came over a small hill on the southbound lanes of I-35W just past 28th Street, then smashing into each other.

First responders found five of the victims dead on the scene, according to the audio traffic. More than 65 other people were injured.

Not only is an icy road dangerous for drivers, but it makes rescue efforts difficult as crews try to move across the glassy roadway, said Fire Chief Jim Davis. Before coming to Fort Worth, Davis was an assistant fire chief in Columbus, Ohio, and is familiar with winter hazards.

"Those are things that I learned over 30 years and these guys adapted to it very quickly," Davis said. "They did a great job, all things considered, so I'm very proud of the effort that they put forth in problem solving that day."

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(c)2021 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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