Columbus (OH) Fire Apparatus Scrapes Billboard

The Columbus Division of Fire is investigating why a firefighter drove a brand new fire engine underneath a Downtown billboard next to an empty parking lot in March, causing more than $250,000 in damage to the vehicle.

Firefighter Brian Murphy said he was trying to drive to other firefighters and paramedics who were helping a patient in a nearby alley when he turned into a parking lot near the corner of Main and Third streets in early March, according to his accident review by the Columbus Fire Division.

Murphy told investigators he didn’t notice any “reflective tape or warning sign of low clearance” on the sign when he tried to drive underneath and into a surface parking lot about 8 p.m.

“I did not see the sign, and I stopped as soon as I heard the spotlights breaking,” he said to investigators.

The sign was clearly lit, according to pictures from the crash. The billboard is about the size of a semi-truck.

The collision ripped lights off the engine, damaged a water pump and hose, dented the roof of the vehicle and destroyed other tools carried onboard.

The city had just purchased the engine for $550,000. It had been in service less than a week before the crash. Murphy said he wasn’t as familiar with the vehicle and that his peripheral vision was impaired by the new, smaller windshield design.

Officials in the city’s public-safety department were so frustrated by the crash that they’re considering not sending the engine back to the Downtown station once it is repaired. Instead, the station would get an older engine and the repaired vehicle would go to another station.

The crash is still under an internal investigation.

The Fire Division averages about 10 crashes a month that are reviewed by a committee. The committee determines if the firefighter or paramedic followed proper procedures or is at fault, according to crash data provided by the division in the last year.

More than half the time, Columbus firefighters were found to be at fault from 2010 to 2014 and sometimes were ordered to be retrained, according to Fire Division data.

Crashes happen, fire administrators said, because of the number of runs and miles the vehicles travel every year. The Fire Division responds to about 150,000 emergencies a year, in addition to inspecting hydrants, buildings and fire-alarm systems and investigating arsons.

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