OSHTEMO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A driver was caught on camera barely missing an Oshtemo Township fire truck and first responders cleaning up a crash scene.
It happened in the evening of Nov. 22 after a three-vehicle crash had first responders block off KL Avenue between 11th Street and Drake Road with two fire engines.
“Our policy is we set up what’s called ‘blocking positions’ to protect ourselves and our patients from oncoming traffic,” said Oshtemo Township Fire Capt. Eric Burghardt.
That apparently did not matter to a driver in what appeared to be a silver Subaru. Firefighters say she drove so close to their crews cleaning up the crash debris that she clipped one of the tools they were using.
“We have a leaf blower that we use to clean up small pieces of glass and debris. It struck the front of that leaf blower. That’s how close she had come to one of our members,” Burghardt explained. “As she continued down through the scene, she bypassed our second blocker, and his partner was standing there … with a broom and came close to striking him as well.”
No one was hurt, but the driver did not stop and kept going through the entire scene.
Burghardt, who serves as the department’s training and safety officer, said close calls happen more often than you’d think.
“If a driver sees even a small narrow gap, and they think they can fit their car through it, they will try to drive through or around a fire scene,” Burghardt said. “Same thing when we’re on a structure fire. If our supply hose is laid across the road, they don’t see that as a problem driving over it.”
The Emergency Responder Safety Institute report from 2021 found 65 emergency responders died while working roadway incidents.
“It’s very dangerous. It’s one of the (top) killers of firefighters across the nation: traffic accidents,” Burghardt said.
In 2017, those same circumstances took the life of Comstock Fire Chief Ed Switalski, who was responding to a crash on I-94. A distracted driver hit him at 90 miles an hour.
“That’s what we’re trying to avoid. That’s still a very fresh wound for all of us in this area, losing Chief Switalski,” Burghardt added. “Obviously, it’s detrimental not only to our people, but the people that we are there to help.”
Firefighters on scene — who got a brief glimpse of the driver — say that she is a woman and drives a silver Subaru.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Michigan State Police and the Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office each say they are not conducting any investigations.