A METRO ARTICLE YESTERDAY ABOUT A FIREFIGHTER'S ACCOUNT OF A FIRETRUCK CRASH IN THE DISTRICT INCORRECTLY REPORTED THE FIRST NAME OF RICHARD GOULD, AN ASSISTANT FIRE CHIEF. (PUBLISHED 08/27/99)
A firefighter who was driving an engine truck that was destroyed July 16 when it crashed into a tree has told fire officials that faulty brakes contributed to the accident.
Robert M. Lohr wrote in a memo that he and three other firefighters left Engine Company 24, at 5101 Georgia Ave. NW, to respond to a report of a gas leak. Lohr accelerated the truck, which is also called a water pumper, while driving east on Gallatin Street NW.
"I then took my foot off the gas pedal to apply the brake and nothing happened," Lohr wrote in the Aug. 5 memo to Assistant Fire Chief Robert Gould, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post. ". . . I then pumped the brake again with no results--only a slight pull to the right."
According to the memo, as the firetruck continued through a green light at the intersection of Fifth and Gallatin Streets NW, Lohr noticed a car quickly traveling north on Fifth Street and swerved to avoid it.
The firetruck knocked over a traffic-light pole and then crashed into a tree.
The collision crushed the front end of the truck, broke the windshield and sent the four firefighters to the hospital.
In an interview after the accident, Fire Chief Donald Edwards said the crash was caused by the driver of the car, a maroon Hyundai, who left the scene.
Battalion Chief John W. McDonald, the department's fleet manager, said yesterday that the department performed a standard check on all four of the truck's brakes the morning after the crash. "We didn't find the brakes were out of adjustment," McDonald said.
The 14-year-old truck, which was a reserve piece standing in for the company's regular engine truck, was too badly damaged to be salvaged.
Parts of the truck have been removed to use in other trucks, making additional tests impossible, McDonald said.
Battalion Chief Stephen M. Reid, a department spokesman, acknowledged the truck had flaws, including a leaky water tank, but said it was the driver's responsibility to note them on a daily check sheet and to tell the on-duty commander.
Lohr "knew the tank was leaking, he knew the speedometer didn't work, he knew the jake brake was intermittent," Reid said, referring to a brake that quickly slows large trucks. "Why was he still driving that truck?"
Lohr said in an interview yesterday that the department's fleet maintenance is so underfunded that drivers routinely do not report flaws because they know the problems won't be fixed.