Jaws of Life delayed at crash

City of Watertown firefighters respond to a multi-vehicle crash Thursday evening on Arsenal Street. Five people were taken to the hospital as a result of the crash. Jonathon Wheeler/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The accident victim trapped in a mangled pickup truck in a fiery crash on Arsenal Street on Thursday night had to wait 16 minutes before Jaws of Life arrived because the city fire department no longer has that type of capability on its vehicles.

The fire department lost the use of that equipment — called hydraulic rams and other tools and equipment — at accident scenes ever since the City Council decided to permanently take its heavy rescue truck off the road in January, Battalion Chief Christopher Hayman said. The move was made to save money.

As a result, firefighters were at Thursday’s accident scene and didn’t have the equipment they needed to get the 18-year-old man freed from the pickup truck, he said.

Upon arriving, Chief Hayman found that one of three people in the pickup truck remained trapped inside. Without being able to free him and not having the necessary equipment, Chief Hayman called mutual aid, requesting that the town of Watertown Fire Department send its Jaws of Life equipment.

It then took another 16 minutes for it to arrive to the accident scene in which five people were in the two-vehicle crash shortly before 10 p.m. Thursday. The teen was trapped underneath the dashboard.

The crash involved a Dodge Ram pickup truck that collided with a Dodge Durango in front of the Price Chopper plaza.

Police are still investigating its cause.

In analyzing the crash, Chief Hayman talked about “the golden hour” — the period of time immediately after a traumatic injury when prompt medical and surgical treatment is needed to prevent death — and the risk it created for the accident victim that night.

“Every minute in that hour not receiving is a critical minute,” he said.

And he stressed that the situation was caused by not having the heavy rescue truck at his disposal. Hydraulic rams that were run off a power unit on the rescue truck are no longer available, he said.

That’s because other vehicles in the department cannot be fitted with the generator. They simply don’t have the room to accommodate the power unit, so the hydraulic rams sit on a floor at the Massey Street fire station.

Instead of using hydraulic rams, firefighters are forced to rely on battery-operated spreaders and cutters to use at accident scenes. They were unable to do the job on Thursday night.

“That’s all we have right now,” Chief Hayman said.

Before the loss of the rescue truck, firefighters also had access to more “cribbing” — different sizes of blocks of woods — used to stabilize a vehicle involved in a crash, he said. There’s just no room to put all the blocks of wood on other vehicles, he said.

In assessing the situation, Fire Chief Matthew Timerman agreed that firefighters can no longer rely on equipment that they always had at their disposal with the heavy rescue truck.

He tried to dissuade council members from decommissioning the rescue truck because of the ramifications it would cause. The fire department is still trying to figure out how to overcome them, he said.

Weeks later, council members agreed to appropriate $40,000 to purchase some other battery-equipped equipment that would help in entrapments.

Chief Timerman hopes soon to go out to bid to acquire the equipment, he said.

Mayor Jeffrey Smith, who pushed for taking the rescue truck off the road, said he hasn’t talked to Chief Timerman about what happened Thursday night, so he couldn’t comment.

But there are also other ramifications caused by the loss of the rescue truck, Chief Hayman said.

The fire department often has to send two vehicles — the ladder truck normally manned by five firefighters and a utility truck that now carries some of the equipment that the rescue truck had carried — out to accident scenes.

One of those firefighters must move from the ladder truck to drive the utility truck to calls, the battalion chief said.

Firefighter Daniel Daugherty, president of the Watertown Professional Firefighters Association Local 191, said the City Council made “a rash decision” when it took the heavy rescue truck off the road. Council members did not think through all the ramifications of their decision and failed to listen to Chief Timerman on what it meant to his department.

Firefighters just don’t have access to all the equipment that they need to do their jobs, Mr. Daugherty said.

And Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero said removing the rescue truck from the road actually has cost the city money, not save it. The city lost $14,000 by selling the truck for $25,900 and then having to turn around to spend $40,000 for equipment for entrapments.

City police hope to soon wrap up their investigation into the crash,

The pickup, occupied by a 20-year-old driver and two 18-year-old male passengers, was traveling west on Arsenal Street when it collided with the Durango, driven by a 44-year-old man, police said.

Witnesses told police that the pickup was speeding, while the Durango took an illegal left turn onto Arsenal Street from the Speedway convenience store.

The two people in the Durango and the driver of the pickup were treated in the hospital. Two passengers in the pickup were taken to Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse. One was released the next day, while the other remains in the hospital.

Police are waiting to receive some technical information from the state police before concluding the investigation.

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