‘The most dangerous place we work’: N.B. fire truck hit while stopped on Route 2

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick fire department reeling after close call on Trans-Canada highway'
New Brunswick fire department reeling after close call on Trans-Canada highway
WATCH: Members of the Petitcodiac fire department are still reeling after a close call earlier this week. One of their firetrucks was hit by a transport truck while responding to a call on the Trans-Canada highway. No one was hurt, but those working in the fire department say the outcome could have been much worse. Nathalie Sturgeon reports. – Mar 8, 2023

Members of the Petitcodiac Fire Department are breathing a sigh of relief.

Less than 12 hours ago, the group of volunteer firefighters were responding to a collision on Trans Canada Highway 2 when news came over the radio.

“We’ve been hit,” recalls Peter Saunders, mayor of Three Rivers and volunteer firefighter in Petitcodiac.

The first truck, Engine 12, had been dispatched ahead of the department’s remaining trucks, which were on the way. While members in Engine 12 were assessing the first scene, a transport truck travelling eastbound struck the rear of the fire truck.

Capt. Brian Dunfield said speeding and distracted driving are routinely observed by firefighters when responding to accidents on highways. Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

Saunders said the truck’s lights were on and the entire rear is detailed with fluorescent chevrons.

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“There are lots of lights on that truck, there are lots of markings on that truck, lots of reflective tape on that truck; there should be no reason someone is coming into the back of us if they are paying attention and if they are going the speed limit,” he said in an interview.

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Saunders said people are routinely not following the move-over law, and the department has had some close calls. Two years ago, it purchased an arrow light to give extra warning for cars to pull over.

The move-over law requires cars to move in the farthest lane, if safe, and to cut the speed to half the posted limit when passing an emergency vehicle stopped at the side of the road. An infraction of that law comes with a $292.50 fine and three demerit points on the licence.

For Saunders, the risks of responding to a call on highways are always on their minds. Speeding and distracted driving are things he sees routinely when responding to calls with his members.

“This is something we dreamt would never happen to us, but has happened to us,” he said. “They’re going out, they volunteer their time, and now we have a chance of basically getting run over.”

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Capt. Brian Dunfield was one of the firefighters who responded to the call.

His first thought when he heard the radio messages was the people who were already on scene.

“That was my main concern. Our trucks are replaceable, our people are not,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

The fire department is waiting to see whether it’ll need to purchase a new truck, which could run it upwards of $750,000. Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

The truck sustained significant damage. The rear frame buckled under the force of the crash. The impact also rendered the area for the water pump useless.

Engine 12 is the department’s main truck. It holds the most water and has the best pump.

Dunfield said this is a considerable loss to the community and its fire department.

Dunfield said that as firefighter, he’d much rather be running into a burning building than be called to the roadside off any highway, considering how risky those calls are.

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“The four-lane is probably one of the most dangerous places we work,” he said. “There are vehicles that don’t slow down … there is a lot of distracted driving. That’s a lot of risk for us to stand out there.”

The truck is out of service and the department is waiting for an assessment of whether it can be repaired. Saunders said it could mean replacing the truck entirely, which could cost upwards of $750,000 and take up to two years.

The New Brunswick RCMP said the collision remains under investigation and had no details on what might have caused the crash. It said no charges have been laid yet.

For Dunfield and Saunders, it’s a relief to know everyone that went out came home.

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