A Springfield Twp. firefighter had to have his leg removed after he was struck by a car while responding to a crash, underscoring the dangers first responders face at any scene, troopers said.
Firefighter David E. Noble, 72, was helping a driver involved in a crash near the intersection of U.S. 68 and Fairfield Pike about 9:50 p.m. Wednesday, according to Lt. Brian Aller, commander of the Springfield Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Noble was struck by a third vehicle, leading to the amputation of one of his legs, Aller said.
Noble, who lives nearby, responded in his own car, Aller said. He had emergency lights on but they may have been blocked by the cars in the crash.
The firefighter’s injuries are a reminder of the danger that emergency personnel often face.
“Even when we’re on scene with lights on, with flares out, with cones out, we’re still at risk,” Aller said. “So it’s a very dangerous situation no matter if you’re a first responder or if you’re just trying to help.”
Devin A. Smith, 27, was driving the car that hit Noble. Investigators don’t suspect drugs or alcohol played a part in the crash, Aller said. They’re investigating if conditions or distraction might have caused the accident.
Smith, “didn’t see the crash and could not see the emergency lights on the volunteer firefighter’s vehicles,” Aller said.
He also added the intersection is dark.
Accidents involving first responders are a big problem, said Doug Stern, spokesman for the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters.
“It’s becoming an increased problem, additionally with distracted driving,” he said.
First responders should, “be hyper vigilant. Always wear your reflective gear,” Aller said.
Drivers should also look out for emergency personnel and slow down or move over if possible.
Springfield Twp. staff members have come together to support Noble, who remained in critical condition at Miami Valley Hospital as of Thursday evening.
“I know he’s a very active individual, very fit,” said Mike Hively, Springfield Twp. fiscal officer.
Noble has been a volunteer firefighter with the department for a year and a half, Hively said, and is a hard worker. He’s retired from the Air Force and a rescue diver.
Hively called Noble’s wife, who’s also the township’s office manager, to see how he’s doing.
“We support them 100 percent,” Hively said. “We’re behind them.”
He’s concerned about firefighters when they respond to scenes, he said, because he knows the dangers they face.
“I worry about these guys,” he said.
An average of 10 law enforcement officers and four firefighters are killed in “struck-by incidents,” in the U.S. each year, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It’s estimated about 40 to 60 towing and recovery professionals are killed each year, the data shows.
“There’s nothing more harrowing than working on an auto accident, turning around and seeing a car come by you a foot away at a high rate of speed,” Stern said.
State law was changed after the 1998 double-fatal crash on I-675 that took the killed Centerville Police Officer John Kalaman and Firefighter Robert O’Toole.
Firefighter Charles Arnold also was seriously injured when the three men were standing in the median at a crash and a motorist lost control and struck them.
The families of those killed pushed for the change in Ohio law, resulting in the slow down/move over for emergency vehicles law.
Centerville Police spokesman John Davis said that since the tragedy, police have worked closely with the fire department to better control traffic flow at crash scenes. That often involves closing multiple lanes and positioning a fire engine ahead of the scene to give motorists warning.
“It’s a dangerous place to be. There’s so many distracted drivers, there’s so many people that they’re in a hurry they don’t seem to pay attention to what’s going on ahead of them,” Davis said. “That law is in place to protect the first responders. If you can’t get over, slow down substantially.”