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Jun 05, 2020
Two Tractor Trailers Crash, Driver Trapped, Wreck Shuts Down Route 1
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By Secretary Bill Wohl
June 3, 2019

The West Grove Fire Company responded to a crash involving two tractor trailers just past 4:15 am Monday morning on Route 1 that closed the busy highway for nearly seven hours.

The crash took place in the northbound lanes of Route 1 just before the exit for Route 841/West Grove, with some residents in West Grove borough awaking to a very loud "boom" coming from the highway. The WGFC was first dispatched for a simple auto accident at 4:18 am.

West Grove's ambulances responded, with the first unit coming toward the incident in the southbound lanes, reporting the northbound lanes fully blocked. Engine 22-1 responded from the West Grove station, and was advised by the Chester County Radio Room that they were upgrading the incident with reports of a subject trapped and one ejected. The Engine Officer requested an additional Basic Life Support (BLS) unit. With reports of the highway blocked, the Engine rerouted and entered Route 1 heading south in the northbound lanes from the West Grove exit, going on scene and reporting the highway blocked by a tractor trailer on its side - this turned out to only be part of the situation they faced.

Upon beginning a 360 degree overview of the scene, the crew discovered that the first truck had been struck by a second tractor trailer and spilled its cargo load. Engine 22-1's crew discovered one victim in the median grass being attended to by members of the PA State Police, and a second victim entrapped in the badly damaged cab of the second truck. The crew requested an additional rescue, then, after further examination of the mangled cab, requested a heavy rescue be dispatched and large tow trucks to the scene. The crew of three also pulled a 1-3/4" hose line for safety, as diesel fuel and other fluids were present all over the scene.

The Deputy Chief arrived on the scene and established Route 1 Command and requested Fire Police to close Route 1 completely at Route 796. WGFC Ladder 22 and Rescue 22 arrived on the scene and began to assist Engine 22-1's crew with extrication on the entrapped driver, while the ambulance crews from WGFC and both medics from SCCEMS Medic 94 attended to the patients. Also responding was Avondale's Rescue 23 and Longwood's heavy rescue, Rescue 25. A standby Engine was also requested to cover the West Grove area during the long incident.

WGFC crews faced a very tricky situation.

The first truck had wrecked, falling on its side across the highway. The second truck then struck the first truck in a "T-bone" fashion at speed, pushing the combined wreck hundreds of feet down the highway. The second truck was a flatbed tractor trailer hauling five large rolls of flat aluminum, each weighing 9,500 pounds. The force of the accident broke all five rolls from their positions on the trailer, each approximately six feet in diameter, causing them to push forward off the front of the trailer. The first of those slammed into the back of the cab of the truck, crushing the sleeper and cab and remained wedged against the cab. The other four flew off the truck, two of which remained next to the crushed cab near the driver's door, and the other two wound up in the median strip of the highway -- one of which crossed the median wire fence and nearly entered the southbound lanes of the highway.

The Engine 22-1 crew discovered the driver of the second truck conscious, with only his head visible through the missing windshield and out the driver's door window. They learned that his lower legs were pinned from the knees down, but could only visualize the entrapment after removing the driver's door with hydraulic tools. Working in spilled and still leaking diesel fuel, and moving around the large rolls of aluminum, the crew removed the door, while planning how they might attack the situation to free the driver. As the pictures alongside this story illustrate, the cab was literally crushed around this driver -- and the passenger seat and sleeper were crushed against the dash -- so getting to the driver that way would be impossible. Nor could they work from behind the driver, as that area was blocked by nearly 10,000 pounds of cargo that had crushed the cab. This was the reason the crew called for Longwood's Heavy Rescue truck which carries specialized tools for such significant rescues, as well as the heavy tow trucks (in case they needed to move the rolls of aluminum to access the driver).

With the driver's door removed, and using hydraulic spreaders, the crew began to try to push the seat back away from the mangled dash and steering wheel. Despite the significant damage, these initial efforts proved productive, with the driver suddenly reporting he could free one leg, and then the second. Just 16 minutes after arrival, WGFC had extricated the entrapped driver, who was removed by EMS and fire crews to the ambulance - both ambulances and medics transported both drivers immediately to the Christiana Hospital, a Level 1 trauma center.

It remains unclear how the driver of the first truck wound up in the median area, with dispatchers reporting initially that he was ejected from his truck. At the time of leaving the scene, both drivers were conscious and talking to EMS personnel.

With the driver extricated and patients on the way to the hospital, crews could begin to fully assess the enormity of the crash and the forces at play. The force of the crash clearly bent the frame of the first tractor trailer, and 60,000 pounds of aluminum were strewn across the highway. Two large trucks were destroyed, and cargo from the first truck (full of food products for delivery) was also all over the northbound lanes. Diesel fuel and other fluids were on the highway and in the median, and damage had been done to the road and wire median divider. As the sun came up over the scene, the long work began to separate the two trucks, clear debris and return the first truck up onto its wheels.

The clean up kept Route 1 closed until about 10:00 am, and one lane remained closed much longer. The resulting traffic jam put hundreds of cars and trucks onto Old Baltimore Pike and secondary roads. Fire police from West Grove and multiple surrounding fire companies worked to keep traffic moving through the intersection in Jennersville, but roads like Old Baltimore Pike, State Road, Routes 926, 841, 896, and 796 were jammed for hours. Despite three news helicopters flying over the scene reporting the traffic issues, the morning commute in the area was frustrating for many, and the State Police did a good job getting dozens and dozens of cars caught in the blocked highway between 796 and 896 to alternative routes.

The full capabilities of the West Grove Fire Company and surrounding companies were put to the test by this wreck. Good training, experience and certainly some luck resulted in a fast extrication. Crews on scene reported no injuries, and most WGFC units were clear in about 3.5 hours, with Fire Police and an Engine crew on scene and operating for nearly six hours.

For additional video coverage of this crash, please see:

Units: Engine 22-1, Ladder 22, WGFC Ambulances 1 and 2, Rescue 22, Utility 22, WGFC Fire Police
Mutual Aid: Rescue 23, Rescue 25, Medic 94-1 and 2, PA State Police, and Fire Police from Stations 21, 23, 24, 36, and 27.

Comment Comment 3 Comment(s)

Betty Kramer June 04, 2019 at 8:23 AM
Just want to say what a great job by WGFC and Blittersdorf Towing and assisting companies. Yes I was listening to this and knew you had a rough job ahead. Deputy Chambers did a great job with Command. He was calm on the radio which helped. It was hard to believe that extrication was completed in a timely fashion considering the damage but this just shows how all the training paid off. I’m proud to say that I am a life member of this great department. God Bless each and everyone of you.

Judy Lowstuter June 04, 2019 at 8:58 AM
So very proud to be part of the West Grove community. Thank you to all who make it what it is today.

Roger Garrison June 04, 2019 at 10:37 PM
Great team work in getting this situation resolved safely. I'm sure anyone who was delayed by this accident appreciate knowing the details. Well written and informative. Thank you all (police, fire, traffic control, tow truck drivers...) for continually working/volunteering to keep us safe.

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