The driveway outside Fairfax County Firehouse Company 441 in Lorton, Va., was blown to pieces this morning, one almost 8 inches thick.
After crews conducted a safety inspection of their equipment, something went terribly wrong.
“Ladder crews were doing operational checks on the ladder truck this morning right after the shift began, extended the ladder, they were traversing it, elevating it and it came into some power lines,” said Dan Schmidt, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue spokesperson.
Those power lines were active with 230,000 volts traveling through them.
Once the metal ladder hit the lines at about 8:40 a.m., an electric current went through the truck. It was grounded in the driveway, but the current burned through the metal plate, continued toward the firehouse, shattered the driveway into four pieces and ignited an electrical power box inside.
At the time of the accident, three firefighters were working around the truck. One was actually on top working the controls as the ladder went into the power lines. He was forced to make a split second life or death decision. He decided to jump.
That firefighter suffered non-life-threatening injuries from the jump, not the power lines. Another firefighter on the ground was taken to the hospital with minor injuries from the flying debris. The third somehow escaped injury.
“We’re very lucky,” said Schmidt. “This could have been so much more serious.”
Residents in northern Virginia also caught a break. That ladder knocked out power for more than 31,000 Dominion Virginia customers in northern Virginia. Less than two hours later, their lights were back on.
Still, the question remains how is it possible that during a safety inspection in broad daylight with power lines visible a metal ladder could get anywhere near high voltage?
“We don’t know yet, again, how or why this happened. It could have been a mechanical issue,” said Schmidt. “We will do an investigation.”
Tonight, both firefighters have been released from the hospital.
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