***what follows is a fictionalized account of a real incident. Nevertheless, many of the things you are about to read really happened, and the characters are based on real people. The names have been changed. The names of the relevant towns have been changed. The story however, is taken from eye-witness and first responders who were there.***
John saw the wreck up ahead on the giant interstate bridge and instinctively downshifted and started to slow. He grabbed the cb mic and called out, “Back’er down boys we got a couple 4-wheelers in a tangle here, back’em down.” As he slowed the 18-wheeler, he eased it to the side near the median. He had no idea the driver of the truck behind him was running without a radio.
As John’s rig slowed, the second rig topped the small ridge behind him and was closing fast. The driver saw John’s brake lights way too late. The crash was impressive. John’s truck was rear-ended, and both trucks were smashed and crushed against the guardrail of the giant bridge. The rear truck was loaded with full barrels of industrial grease. John had been hauling a whole trailer full of brand new Wal-mart shopping bags. It didn’t take long for the fire to start.
Red was finishing a cut on a 2X6 with a circular saw when heard his radio. The small town volunteer fire chief laid down the saw and walked to the cab of his truck and picked up the radio to hear better. He listen to the chatter a little bit and started packing up tools. He looked over to his buddy, Sam, and said, “I think this is gonna be a bad one.”
As he was packing up more tools, a calm voice on the radio called out for a small town near the scene to send their trucks. A female voice answered. “This is Jen from Utica. I’ve got the rescue truck, and I’m already heading that way.”
Red shook his head. He keyed the mic on his radio, “Jen this Red. Two semi trucks on that bridge. They ain’t gonna need a rescue truck. Better get the tanker.”
“I hear ya Red, but I am already on the way.”
Red shook his head. He was just about finished putting up the tools. He said, “Lancaster’s boys are sitting in their trucks right now. They are just waiting to get the call. ” He shook his head in frustration. Two more small departments have gotten called in by now. One at time… always one at a time. That’s when thing got interesting.
The calm voice on the radio said, “Lexington we could use a little…” – the radio cut out. When it came back on, the voice had changed considerably. “HOLY SHIT!” the voice yelled into the mic. “THEY ARE GOING OFF LIKE FIREWORKS! HOLY SHIT! ONE’S GONE IN THE RIVER! CALL HAZMAT!” The radio went dead again. Then it came back, “SEND EVERYBODY! JESUS H. CHRIST SEND EVERYBODY!!!”
Red was already in the truck at this point. Sam yelled at him as he backed out of the gravel driveway, “Be careful ol’ man!”
The bridge with the wreck was over 2 and half miles long, and technically it was two parallel bridges, one northbound and one southbound. It crossed two rivers separated by a giant swamp. The wreck was on the southbound side. As Red topped the first of the two rises in the bridge, he could see the massive raging fire. 50 gallon drums were in fact shooting off like bottle rockets. He saw them shoot off to the left and smash into the north bound side. Shocked drivers swerved their cars to avoid the exploding 50-gallon projectiles.
Red shook his head for 500th time that day. Why hadn’t they shut down northbound traffic? Who was running this clusterfuck?
As he pulled up to the inferno, he wondered how anyone knew there were two trucks involved. All he could see was one giant damned fire. Trucks from both sides – north and south – were pouring foam into the fire, but it had no obvious effect what-so-ever.
A brawny state trooper approached Red as he got out of his truck. “Hey chief. Looks like an all nighter.” Red patted him on the back, and said, “and we ain’t even gonna get to roast no damned marshmallows or nuthin’.”
The firefight was as long and dangerous and difficult as you can imagine. It was literally hours of clawing and scrapping inch by inch against the flames. They were making progress though. At one point, Red was using a hose on a hot spot and was making some progress. A young state trooper was behind him holding the hose for him. Red called out and told him to move up, but the trooper stumbled a little and had to catch himself with his right hand on the guardrail. The guardrail was like ice and he jerked his hand away.
A few minutes later Red checked back and saw the trooper holding the hose under his left arm instead of in his hands and realized the man was clutching his right fist against his chest. Red walked back and said, “Trooper, let me see that hand.” The cop opened his palm revealing a burn all the way to the bone all across the top of his palm.
“You’re done today son. See the boys at the ambulance and get that checked out.” Red said. Red had said you’re done today, but by looking at the hand, and 30 years on the job, he knew damned well that man would never use that hand again.
The fire fighters were hitting the fire from the north and the south side… and after several more hours, they finally met in the middle and had the thing beaten. In the aftermath and clean up, Red learned that John, the driver who got rear-ended had actually lived.
“Driver lived?” Red asked, a little skeptical.
“Yeah… just some broken bones,” another small town chief said.
Red looked at him, and then the chief added, in that laconic southern fashion, “skull… spine… pelvis… sternum.. “
Not long after, some engineers were walking up the bridge inspecting it. Red knew one of them from a few previous scenes and walked over to say hi. The engineer spotted Red and offered him a hand, “Hey Chief. Just another day at the office right?”
The old man was to tired to be witty, or even cantankerous.
“No.” the engineer shook his head. “No… not by a damned sight. Look at these spans here.” He pointed, “and there. See that discoloration? That white bit? If it was black, we’d be fine. No big deal. But that white there… that means the steel got way too hot. No she’s shot, Red. We’re gonna have to replace these spans.”
Red shook his head for the 700th time in the last 20 hours.
“I do believe I’m just about to damned old for this job.”