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Monday, September 01, 2014
Canajoharie, NY ,

Heather Nellis
Fultonville firefighter George Donaldson inspects the department’s damaged engine outside the Fonda-Fultonville wastewater treatment plant on Bridge Street in Fonda last Wednesday evening. The engine was rear-ended by a delivery truck while responding to a pair of incidents on the Thruway last Wednesday morning.

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Wreck involving fire truck could have been a lot worse

Thursday, January 23, 2014 - Updated: 1:15 AM

By HEATHER NELLIS

For the C-S-E

GLEN -- Three vehicles drove off the Thruway within minutes of each other near mile marker 179 eastbound between the Amsterdam and Fultonville exits last Wednesday morning.

The last was a delivery truck -- it rear-ended a Fultonville fire engine that had just arrived on the scene.

No one was injured. It might have been a different story, though, if the fire engine hadn’t been there to bear the brunt of the impact, sparing a group of people standing nearby.

“The fire truck saved people’s lives,” said Fultonville firefighter George Donaldson, who had just finished parking, and was still in the driver’s seat when the engine was struck. “If it hadn’t been there, people would have been run over.”

Fultonville Assistant Chief Justin Cotter said the department was called to a single-vehicle off the Thruway around 7 a.m.

By the time firefighters arrived, a second vehicle had gone off the road, about 75 yards away from the first. Both reportedly went over an embankment.

Cotter got out of the engine before Donaldson moved it away from the scene, and parked it on the shoulder of the road.

There were flares, and lights flashing from a state trooper’s patrol car, an ambulance, and a Glen fire truck, but Donaldson said he put space between the engine and the accident scene to further alert motorists of the emergencies.

Before Donaldson got out, a delivery truck towing oranges struck the rear passenger side of the short, yellow engine. It left a big dent, and buckled other parts of the vehicle.

“To be honest, I didn’t feel anything. It sounded like a tire popped,” Donaldson said. “The truck is loaded with 1,500 gallons of water and a lot of equipment, so it deadened the noise.”

“It’s really scary, though,” he continued. “I don’t know what would have happened if I was getting out of the truck.”

GAVAC operations manager Mickey Swartz said he and other ambulance personnel were at the scene furthest from the fire engine. Because it was still dark outside, and there was dense fog, he didn’t see the engine get rear-ended, but heard it, and remembers there were firefighters in front of it.

“It’s a good thing the fire truck was there. Had it not stopped the delivery truck, it could have potentially hurt someone,” Swartz said.

Troopers did not return phone calls to comment if anyone was ticketed, or what circumstances led to the three vehicles leaving the roadway.

Swartz said it was icy, and thinks that was a factor, considering the number of vehicles to leave the roadway in a single area. 

Not long after responding to the incidents at mile marker 179, GAVAC responded to a fourth car off the Thruway, closer to Amsterdam. Swartz said GAVAC treated minor injuries in that instance.

“I know the road was icy, because I was standing on it. I don’t think anyone anticipated the fog to cause surface ice, and so quickly,” Swartz said.

Donaldson hopes the situation will remind drivers to slow down when approaching emergency vehicles stopped on the road. He pointed to the three-vehicle crash on the Thruway that took the life of Trooper David Cunniff Dec. 16. 

Cunniff was in the midst of a traffic stop at the exit 27 off-ramp when a tractor trailer rear-ended his patrol car, partially ejecting him from the vehicle. He died from injuries the next day.

Gary Blakely of Ontario, the driver of the tractor trailer, has not been charged, but the investigation is pending. Authorities are determining what caused Blakely to veer into the parked vehicles, though they’ve already ruled out drugs, alcohol and weather.

“My concern is people are not paying attention and plowing into emergency vehicles,” Donaldson said.

Swartz saw Wednesday’s circumstances differently.

“The damage to the fire truck probably won’t be cheap, but based on the amount of damage we saw there, I don’t think the delivery truck was going that fast. I think it was trying to move over, but they hit black ice,” Swartz said.

Either way, Fultonville could be out one fire truck. Cotter said the department is waiting on its insurance carrier to inspect the damage, and determine if it can be fixed. 

“I’m hoping we’ll find out soon, because it’s the main truck we use,” Cotter said.

The department purchased the engine in 1999, Cotter and Donaldson said. New fire engines generally cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

     

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