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Firefighter commands major hazmat fire/evacuation after just 18 months as volunteer

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This article is unusual. We all know of countless situations where firefighters have been put in positions beyond their training and/or experience level. That, obviously, is not the unusual part. It’s that there even is an article on this topic that surprised me a bit. It’s not something I’ve seen before.

The story, by Jordan Richert of The Tribune, features 26-year-old Jon Hunt with Indiana’s Crothersville – Vernon Township Volunteer Fire Department. On Wednesday, Hunt, with about 18 months on the department, was the senior firefighter on the scene when three trucks crashed on I-65 in what turned into a 17-hour event.

It was hours after the 4:37 a.m. crash, during the clean-up of chemicals that had spilled in one truck (two corrosives, one oxidizer and one with acid), that problems occurred causing the entire highway to be shut down and homes evacuated. By 12:16 p.m. the truck and chemicals were burning freely. Read the timeline of the incident.

In the article, Firefighter Hunt describes how firefighters were just 20-feet from the vehicle as it was being off-loaded and that, at first, a white fog came from the trailer. As the off-loading continued, Hunt says the color of that fog/fumes kept changing and he moved his crews back as eventually it was evident there was fire. No one was injured during the operation.

Maybe it’s just me – an old, cynical, has-been reporter – but I would like to think there are some more serious questions that should have been asked about this situation. The more I read of the article the more I came away with the idea that maybe this should have been a little more than just a feature story about a firefighter’s harrowing first command.

Jordan Richert, The Tribune:

Fire Chief Charles Densford could not be at the scene, so Hunt took command because of seniority. That was the first time Hunt had taken command of a scene for the fire department.

“I was a little nervous,” he admitted. “I’ve only been on the department for a year and a half, and this was my first time running a scene.”

But Densford, who arrived after the fire started, said Hunt made the department proud of how he handled the situation.

“It escalated to a really big incident, and he did a great job with it,” the 19-year veteran said, adding he was impressed with the communication Hunt had while dealing with so many agencies. “I’m sure he was overwhelmed because of what it escalated to and everything that was involved and how it just seemed to continue to escalate.”

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