MANCHESTER, NH — Friday was already a dark day for the city’s fire department. By 10 a.m. hundreds were gathered at Goodwin Funeral Home — including many firefighters — to pay final respects to one of their own, Mason Murphy, 25, who died on Feb. 16. Less than three hours later, fire crews were dispatched from Central Station to a porch fire on Arlington Street. Engine 11 and Truck 1 left the station at the same time and took different routes to reach the fire.
One took Maple Street, the other went up Bridge.
And that’s where the two city fire trucks collided, at the busy intersection, an accident that also involved a pick-up truck. Eight firefighters and the driver of the pick-up were all treated for injuries.
By all accounts, it could have been much worse.
The accident took out a traffic light, which was quickly repaired. Injuries aside, the worst of it is that two of the fire department’s newer trucks are now out of service and will be costly to repair or replace.
The city on Friday immediately began the process of evaluating damage to the trucks, which will be a long complicated and expensive process, according to Chief Dan Goonan. Somewhere around $1.7 million, he speculates.
Engine 11 has only been in service for six months, and Truck 1, for two years.
“They’re both very new and they generally last us 15 to 20 years,” Goonan said over the weekend.
On Monday the work began in earnest to determine whether the trucks are repairable.
“If they are, we’ll do that. We’ll have factory reps come up and see if it’s practical to fix, and if not, we’ll have to go about replacing them,” Goonan said.
The city has a spare engine, but they will be down a ladder truck until it’s all sorted out. In the meantime they will use mutual aid partners and possibly take on a loaner truck from one of the manufacturers.
Because the city is self-insured there are no traditional insurance policies that would cover catastrophic damage, like the kind you’d have for the family vehicle. Determining repair or replacement costs and funding sources is all procedural and will take time, according to City Solicitor Emily Rice.
“First and foremost, we’re all very glad no one was more seriously injured than they were. Certainly it could have been so much worse, ”Rice said, elaborating a bit on the city’s insurance protocol. “The city is entirely self-insured with the exception of city-owned real estate, so that means we are actively investigating the cause, the injuries and property damage and we go from there.”
Such accidents are rare, which is one reason why the city self-insures rather than paying monthly insurance premiums. It has been a cost-effective way of managing claims — until now.
“The last time anything like this happened was 1982,” Goonan said, “and — can you believe it? It happened between the same two vehicles, at Valley and Beech.”
Goonan said onboard computers will help provide information including how fast the trucks were going at the time of the collision. The police reconstruction team is gathering details around what led to the crash.
Goonan says that’s the tough part.
“We average 26,000 calls a year and out of those we have many more thousands of times apparatus leaves the bay, multiplied by the eight or nine different trucks at any given time so it’s more like 60,000 to 70,000 times,” Goonan said. “The chances of something like this happening are so rare.”
Decisions made around which route to take to a call can depend on the time of day, or whether there’s construction going on. For whatever reason the officers made the decisions they made on Friday to take different routes, it didn’t end well. Goonan’s crews are taking all of it hard.
“We’re watching our guys and making sure they’re OK. The two operators are taking it pretty hard — nine people were injured — and these are people who really take pride in what they do, and we care about each other,” Goonan said. “When an incident like this occurs it weighs on them.”
It was a bad ending to a tragic and difficult day. Goonan said a District Chief and Captain were accompanying Firefighter Murphy’s funeral procession to Rhode Island when the crash happened. Until it was known that everyone was OK, it was a tense time.
“We’re all human, and obviously these situations weigh on us whether it’s the death of a friend or coworker, or anything else. We’re thankful that it wasn’t any worse. A truck can be replaced,” Goonan said.