ORLANDO, Fla. – A crash involving an Orlando Fire Department engine early Sunday morning sent four firefighters and two civilians to the hospital, according to officials from the department.
The crash marks the second for the department in the past two months. It's also the second on Sunday alone, after a vehicle crashed into an Ocoee Fire Department engine on State Road 429 just after 7:15 a.m., according to Orange County Fire Rescue.
The crash involving OFD's fire engine occurred on Interstate 4 near Orange Blossom Trail around 2:40 a.m. Officials said a vehicle driving at a high rate of speed crashed into the fire engine, which was stopped while assisting with another disabled vehicle.
Assistant Chief Dr. Hezedean Smith said the engine, which was angled to protect the disabled vehicle, was pushed approximately 8 to 10 feet forward from the impact of the vehicle.
All four firefighters at the scene were in the engine at the time of the crash. Officials said they immediately got out of the engine and went to assist the crashed driver, who had to be extricated. A passenger in the vehicle was able to get out without assistance.
In less than two months, a second Engine, E-5, was struck at a high rate of speed on I-4 near OBT around 2:40 am. Four of the crew members went to the hospital for evaluation. The driver was extricated and both people from the vehicle were transported. #MoveOver. It’s the law. pic.twitter.com/5eHwtYlNST— Orlando Fire Dept (@OrlandoFireDept) February 10, 2019
According to a Facebook post from the fire department, the firefighters are recovering. The conditions of driver and passenger of the other vehicle are unknown.
The crash occured on the 50-year-anniversary of the day an Orlando firefighter died in the line of duty after being struck by a flatbed truck while driving a fire engine. The firefighter, John Lewkowicz was the second OFD firefighter to die on the job.
"This cannot continue. We have to do something about this," Smith said. "It is important that vehicles and drivers pay attention to what's going on because we're out there trying to save lives and protect property."
Smith said after Sunday's crash, the department will be implementing a new policy when responding to crashes in dangerous areas, like high-speed interstates.
In the future, whenever a fire vehicle responds to a scene, an additional apparatus, such as another fire truck or engine, will also respond. That extra vehicle will primarily serve as a barrier to protect the firefighters who are already working at the scene.
Smith said he's frustrated these crashes keep happening. He's hopeful about the new policy, but still urges drivers to first address the root cause of crashes by being aware on the road and reminds drivers to "move over" when they see first responders working a scene.
"It is very important that they minimize distractions. Slow down, stop for that matter and move over, get out of the way," Smith said. "Pay attention to what's going on because we want our firefighters to go home safely to their families everyday."
The department even participated in the Florida Highway Patrol's reminder about the Move Over law, which requires drivers to change lanes away from stopped emergency vehicles, in January. Violating the law can result in a fine, fees and points on a driver's record.