HEMPFIELD TWP., Pa. (WKBN) — A local volunteer fire department is asking drivers to be more cautious around fire trucks after an accident cost the department thousands of dollars — and could have cost a driver their life.
A few months ago, Hempfield Township Volunteer Fire Department training officer John Kirchner was headed to a brush fire when a driver crossed the center line on a narrow road, coming at Kirchner head-on.
“I literally had a second to make a decision,” Kirchner said.
And that decision saved a driver’s life.
“Even if we were both doing 35, that’s a closing speed of 70 miles an hour,” Kirchner said. “Somebody would have been seriously hurt, or possibly killed or both of us.”
Instead, he swung into a ditch, saving their lives — but creating $95,000 in damage to their only engine, which they don’t expect to get back for months.
Even with insurance — the cost wasn’t easy for a volunteer department without a fire tax.
“With a small volunteer department like this that we rely on, majority of our funding is through donations. It is getting very, very hard to keep doing business, keeping trucks on the road,” Kirchner said.
“We know how much we get from our fund drives, our membership drives, stuff like that, our fundraising, and we set our budget,” Chief Dave King said. “This was not in the budget. Trust me.”
The Hempfield department was able to buy an engine from Slippery Rock for about $25,000. It was still without an engine for about a month, putting strain on the department, which serves around 4,000 people in mostly rural areas with little access to hydrants.
“You hope you can make the initial hit and get it knocked down while you’re waiting on other resources to get there,” King said. “We’re shy a thousand gallons of water. We’re shy our attack lines.”
During that time, King said the accident has also put strain on the many departments in northern Mercer County they serve mutual aid for.
Both firefighters said they’re just glad no one was hurt in the incident, but they have a message for drivers: Pay attention on the road.
“We may be going to your family member if your loved one needs help,” King said. “Give us a little bit of room.”