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Fire chief calls Interstate 78 accident 'worst he's ever seen'

Written by Merriell Moyer/Lebanon Daily News | Feb 15, 2016 4:51 AM
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Bunker Hill Fire Chief Rick Kreitzer talks about the Interstate 78 pileup as the worst accident he has seen in his 31 years in the fire service on Sunday, February 14, 2016.(Photo: Jeremy Long, Lebanon Daily News)

(Fredericksburg) -- "In my 31 years as a firefighter, this is probably the worst vehicle accident I've ever seen," Fire Chief Richard Kreitzer of the Bunker Hill Fire Company said regarding Saturday morning's crash on Interstate 78.

The crash, which officials blamed on low visibility caused by blowing snow, occurred at mile marker 7.5 in Bethel Township and involved 64 vehicles, including 12 tractor-trailers, and resulted in three deaths and 73 people transported to 11 area hospitals for injuries.

Kenneth Lesko, 50, Bethpage, N.Y., Francisca Pear, 54, Bridgewater, N.J. and Alfred Kinnick, 57, Limestone, Tenn. were pronounced dead at the scene.

The injured were taken to Penn State Hershey Medical Center and WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, Reading Hospital and Saint Joseph Medical Center in Berks County, Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Holy Spirit Hospital in Camp Hill, Schuylkill Regional Medical Center in Pottstown and multiple hospitals in the Pinnacle Health network in the Harrisburg area.

"We received 13 victims, and of those 13, we have discharged seven of them," Megan Manlove, Penn State Hershey Medical Center spokesperson, said. "Of the remaining six, one is still in critical condition, four are in fair condition and one is in good condition."

"Six patients were brought in to us," Cindy Stauffer, Senior Media Relations and Communications Specialist for WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, said. "Five of them were treated and released. One was transferred to Penn State Hershey Medical Center."

Reading Hospital reported nine patients from the crash with seven discharged and two in good condition. Lehigh Valley reported 17 patients who were treated for minor injuries, and Pinnacle Health reported 10 patients in their network with eight being treated and discharged and two who had to be admitted to a hospital. Attempts to contact Saint Joseph Medical Center, Holy Spirit Hospital and Schuylkill Regional Medical Center were unsuccessful.

A multitude of fire departments and ambulances from Lebanon, Berks and Lancaster counties responded to the crash, including four emergency helicopters.

"We rolled up on the scene at the same time as Jonestown Rescue, and we pretty much jumped out and started working together," Kreitzer said. "There were people entrapped, and we all just started doing our thing."

Bunker Hill typically has to cut five or six people out of vehicles each year according to Kreitzer, but he and his crew had to cut that many people out of their vehicles during this single incident, he said.

"We cut a tractor-trailer tractor open to get a guy out, and we just let the doors open and we relayed that back to command that we were going to let doors open to show that the vehicle was searched," Kreitzer said. "Then we had yellow ribbons we were tying on cars during our second or third sweep through to show that they were thoroughly searched."

For tractor-trailers, initially only the front seats were checked, Kreitzer said, but the second time through, rescue personnel climbed in each cab to make sure there was nobody in the sleeper area.

Bunker Hill and Jonestown Rescue were the first fire companies on scene according to Kreitzer, with Fredericksburg not far behind.

"Fredericksburg was on the way, but [they were] tied up in westbound traffic," he said. "Fredericksburg's chief directed us to travel westbound in the eastbound lane to get around the traffic and they said they'd get there as soon as they could."

The crash occurring on the weekend was a good thing, according to Kreitzer.

"On a weekday, our crew probably would have been half of what we had on hand because people would have been at work," he said. "The same for the other companies, too. The amount of people on scene would have been cut in half."

With a good turnout of emergency personnel, Kreitzer reported that the crash was handled very well, but he still thinks the incident should be analyzed to see how responders could improve.

"Everything went really well, but it would be good if everyone involved got together and critiqued the response," he said. "It would be good to get the State Police involved in that conversation, too."

The fire departments and ambulance companies who responded to the crash were:

  • Fredericksburg Fire Company
  • First Aid and Safety Patrol
  • Bunker Hill Fire Company
  • Jonestown Perseverance Fire Company
  • Ono Fire Company
  • Lebanon County Hazardous Materials Team
  • Lebanon County Communications Mobile Command Unit
  • Lickdale Fire Company
  • Mount Zion Fire Company
  • Annville-Cleona Fire Company
  • Fort Indiantown Gap Fire Company
  • Bethel Ambulance - Berks County
  • Life Lion Ambulance
  • Life Lion Aeromedical
  • Schaefferstown EMS
  • Myerstown First Aid Unit
  • Keystone Hook and Ladder (Myerstown)
  • Neversink Fire Company
  • Bellegrove Fire Company
  • Salvation Army Canteen Truck
  • Schuylkill County - Pine Grove Ambulance
  • Dauphin County - South Central EMS
  • Jonestown Pennsylvania State Police
  • Lancaster County - North West EMS
  • York County - STAT MEDEVAC 13 Aeromedical
  • DB Fisher Bus Company - Busses for transport to rewarming station
  • Berks County - Canteen 9
  • American Red Cross
  • Lebanon County Emergency Operations Center
  • Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Operations Center
  • Schuylkill County - Life Flight 5

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