Busy is a constant state for me. I work full-time, do some small development on the side, and am a volunteer firefighter. I have been a firefighter for just over six years now, and have loved every second. Along the way I have seen my share of fires, accidents, deaths, saves, and everything along the way. I have been to many trainings, even having the opportunity to go to the National Fire Academy in Maryland. And while I have gotten to see a lot, there was no way to prepare for what happened yesterday.
At around 7:10 am, a northbound propane truck carrying just over 2,500 gallons of propane crossed the median and hit a pickup truck head-on, losing its front axle on impact. It then proceeded half-on and half-off skidding down the expressway for 35 feet, losing its rear axle, before falling 25 feet nose first, flipping over, and catching fire.
The first crew, Engine 13, heard the accident from their station. They were only two blocks away and immediately responded. Upon arrival they could not see the vehicle on the expressway, but knew they did have a propane truck overturned, heavy damage, and on fire.
It took a coordinated effort of easily over 40 firefighters before the scene was finally stabilized. We were not able to remove the driver of the propane truck until 6:30 pm, and were not able to clear the scene until 11:30 pm. Both the driver of the propane truck (who probably had a heart attack and died before crossing the median) and the driver of the pickup truck were killed.
Normally for us, that's the end of the story. We go out, do the best we can, save who we can, and follow up sometimes if someone made it to the hospital. We don't even think about the circumstances around the call, simply because we can't. Becoming emotionally involved in the patients can prevent you from doing your job. But this morning, reading about the incident in the newspaper and looking for pictures of my crew, I found a part of the story that I didn't know, and that made me appreciate it that much more.
Lisa Cook decided that morning to take a few extra moments to kiss her husband. After all, it had been 20 years that day since their first date, and she was so grateful to have him. She then got in her car as she normally did, and hopped on the Veteran's Expressway to head to work.
To her, it was a normal ride into work. I will now quote the St. Petersburg Times who puts it so much better than I:
"About 7:30 a.m., she was southbound on the Veterans Expressway, driving about 60 mph behind a Ford pickup. Suddenly, she saw debris and a truck axle rolling toward her."
"A propane gas tanker had veered out of the northbound lanes, crossed the grass median and slammed into the pickup in front of Lisa Cook. Then, in a scene that seemed to belong in a Hollywood action movie and not in everyday life, the body of the propane tanker ripped away from its axles, hurtled over the expressway wall and plunged onto an entry ramp at Ehrlich Road."
Those few moments, that one kiss to celebrate something so dear, saved a life that routine and schedule may have taken away. The thought of only being seconds behind tragedy, witnessing it before your very eyes made me stop this morning and really appreciate the day.
- St. Petersburg Times Tampa Bay Section
- Me being there