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Injured firefighters backed by brothers in uniform

Ladder truck model involved in accident is under scrutiny

POSTED: August 3, 2014 12:30 a.m.

When the people who rescue us need saving themselves, a brotherhood emerges and rushes to their aid.

Such has been the case since three Hall County firefighters were injured after falling 44 feet in a ladder truck bucket during a July 22 training exercise. Members of Atlanta-area fire departments immediately sprang into action for the families at Grady Memorial Hospital.

Will Griffin, TJ Elliott and Stephen Jackson suffered injuries and have required surgery when a training exercise went awry at the Allen Creek training center. Northeast Georgia Medical Center received Griffin by ambulance, while Elliott and Jackson were airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Steven Woodworth, an assistant chief with the Atlanta fire department, said fire services members will try to meet family members at the hospital to offer help. From a cup of coffee to a home-cooked meal, any wish is granted.

“One of the guys’ wives had gone to the hotel room, gotten a shower, and she needed to go back to the hospital,” Woodworth said. “So we drove over there, picked her up, drove her to the hospital. We’ll do whatever we have to (like) carry their bags for them. Just common decent stuff.”

It’s a bond held by people that rush into dangerous situations daily that makes Woodworth and his colleagues jump to help at a moment’s notice.

“It’s not like other jobs. If you work in a bank, you probably don’t have people being sent to the hospital on a regular basis for trauma, for serious injuries,” Woodworth said. “In the fire service, unfortunately, we do. So we just pull together to do the right thing.”

Griffin was discharged Friday morning from Northeast Georgia Medical Center, according to hospital officials. No further medical information was available for Jackson or Elliott from hospital officials.

Woodworth said one of the firefighters had been released from Grady when he went by to check last week.

The truck involved in the July 22 incident proved problematic for its previous owner, the South Carolina-based Bluffton Township Fire District. Extension cables on the ladder truck failed multiple times for Bluffton fire services.

In 2013, around the time Bluffton Township sold the truck back to the Ohio factory, Sutphen issued a 156-vehicle recall for defective aerial apparatuses, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website. The four models listed in the recall — SP 110, SPI 112, SAI 110 and SPH 100 — are the same affected by the July voluntary removal statement issued after the Hall County incident.

Hall County’s 2006 Sutphen SPH 100 matches the lion’s share of that recall, as 134 of the 156 vehicles were SPH 100 models.

The cause of the defect, according to the recall notice, is the main cables wearing out, as “bearing in the sheaves that used in the extend/retract system had seized and prevented the sheaves from rotating.”

“Failure of the extend/retract system can result in either the aerial to become inoperable (i.e will not extend/retract properly) or cause it to unexpectedly retract or descope,” the recall notice reads. “This movement could result in damage to the vehicle and/or injuries to personnel on or around the vehicle.”

On July 23, Sutphen President Drew Sutphen said all of the listed aerial devices had been voluntarily removed from service, saying the company would be “undertaking a thorough review.”

“We are a proud member of the community, with an essential mission to provide our customers with the highest level of quality and safety,” Sutphen wrote. “We appreciate the continued support of each of you as we complete this investigation.”

A representative for Sutphen said Friday they could not comment beyond the letter from the company’s president.

Hall County purchased the refurbished truck from Sutphen in April. Mistras, an asset protection solutions provider, presented the county with an inspection certificate at the end of March before the truck began its service, said Hall County public information officer Katie Crumley.


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