Firefighter policy change helped avoid highway tragedy

After a firefighter's death, policy requires firefighters to wear reflective vests and gear when on an accident call


The Pantagraph

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Policies changed after the March 2013 death of a Hudson firefighter may have helped prevent a similar tragedy during Tuesday's ice storm.

Assistant Chief Jason Hospelhorn of the Dale Township Fire Department was helping victims of a rollover crash on Interstate 55 south of Shirley when a speeding semi "completely took out" his sport utility vehicle, said Fire Chief Ryan Gibson.

"He heard the semi coming at a high rate of speed and heard the jake brake (air brake)," Gibson said. "He pushed the other two victims — who were out of their car — toward the ditch and then ran himself."

Illinois State Police at Pontiac said the crash was reported at 3:49 a.m., but had no further information since the accident did not result in injuries.

One person required hospital treatment from the initial crash, Gibson said.

The incident occurred two days before the two-year anniversary of the death of Chris Brown, a career firefighter with Bloomington Fire Department who was hit by a semi while helping Hudson firefighters at a night-time accident on an icy stretch of Interstate 39. 

Dale Township changed its policies after Brown's death, requiring firefighters to wear reflective vests and protective gear when on an accident call. Hospelhorn's SUV was outfitted with flashing lights, which were in use, and his vehicle was well off the road, said Gibson.

"We can't always look over our shoulders," Gibson said, "but it can happen. Safety is everyone's main focus. We try to get (victims) off the interstate as soon as possible."

In response to the accident, he is pleading with motorists to obey Scott's Law, which calls for drivers to slow down when they see emergency lights and move to the far lane. 

The semi driver stopped his rig about 100 yards south of the accident site and ran back to see if anyone was hurt, Gibson said. The driver was issued a ticket for driving too fast for conditions, he said.

"The whole interstate was ice. It was really, really bad," said Gibson, adding, the incident was an example of "why it's so important to move over and slow down."

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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