Close call with Omaha fire rig caught on camera

Omaha firefighters now have a new tool on their hands -- thanks to video from a passerby's dashcam.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 10:33 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - It’s rush hour on a weekday afternoon with all three lanes of I-680 near Maple clogged ahead.

An Omaha fire rig driver takes the shoulder responding to an emergency -- but a car driver who appears to be moving out of the way unknowingly pulls in the path of the emergency vehicle.

“The driver of that fire apparatus, I’m sure, was thinking that car would continue straight or maybe pull to the left to get out of the way,” said OFD Training Battalion Chief Coby Werner. “But instead they pulled to the right in front of the fire apparatus, which I’m not faulting anybody for that.”

Werner says taking the shoulder isn’t taught in training, but is an acceptable maneuver if there’s no other way around traffic and the driver believes he can do so safely.

“This would be something we would use as a teaching moment, especially with our new drivers or those looking to drive,” Werner said. “We might show them this video and say these are the things you have to be ready for.”

The video came from a windshield camera belonging to Patrick Jones, who slowed for the fire truck and witnessed the close call.

“I used a lot of profanity because I thought it would roll,” Jones said. “I thought it was going to roll because of the way the back of the truck went off the road and he’d have to recover from that.”

The video was added to other training elements for Omaha firefighters like a new simulator purchased by Public Works -- a program that replaces snowplows with fire rigs and rescue squads. The scenarios include squeezing through parked cars as driver’s-side doors open, and making a turn with a 50,000-pound fire rig or ladder truck.

“Either by standards walking into your lane of traffic or other vehicles, just roadway obstacles, that trains them to overcome and avoid,” said Rob Herman with OFD driver training.

All first-year Omaha firefighters get hands-on-the-wheel training since anyone might have to move a rig in the middle of an emergency.

“To learn the limits of their vehicle length, steering radius and just understanding where your vehicle is,” Herman said.

The trainers say Omaha Fire has 111 fire apparatus engineers or drivers who may get to see the crash-saving maneuver performed by one of their own -- thanks to Jones’s video. He says he’s ironically a former volunteer firefighter.

“Close call that had a good ending and nobody was hurt,” Jones said. “Especially those firefighters in the truck, and another educational piece to be aware of when they’re responding.”

6 News got an exclusive first look at Omaha Public Works’ new simulator which should be ready for OFD’s use by the end of the year. It can be used as part of the testing for rescue squad and fire truck drivers.