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Records tell tale of firefighters' rescue on July 22
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Timeline of firetruck accident

April 25: Sutphen firetruck delivered to Hall County for a price of $525,000.

July 22: At 2:14 p.m., a Hall County firetruck’s extended ladder dropped 44 feet injuring firefighters William Griffin, TJ Elliott and Stephen Jackson. Firetruck manufacturer Sutphen Corp. announces departments should remove similar trucks effective immediately.

July 23: Sutphen personnel meet with Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell, Battalion Chief Al Lovingood and others to inspect truck.

July 24: A voicemail was sent from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration saying “you should never have received the truck from Sutphen, this never should have happened.”

Aug. 18: Kimbrell is relieved of command but retains position as Emergency Management Agency director. Interim Fire Chief Jeff Hood named.

Sept. 4: NHTSA examines truck in Hall County.

Sept. 16: County Attorney Bill Blalock writes a letter to Sutphen threatening legal action.

On July 22, Will Griffin, Stephen Jackson and TJ Elliott fell 44 feet at the Allen Creek Training Center when the Hall County truck’s ladder assembly collapsed.

The Times filed an open records request for all audio recordings, photographs, statements and documents pertaining to the July 22 accident. The statements from those on the scene that day provide insight into the exact events.

Units arrived at the taraining center at 1 p.m. July 22 for training on the ladder truck, received in April from firetruck manufacturer Sutphen. An hour later, the classroom section of the training had been completed. The first group to go up was Jackson, firefighter Jeremy Hancock and Lt. Kevin Dean.

Next in line was Hall County firefighter Rhodes Berry, but Elliott and Griffin asked if they could go next to “get Rescue 4 back in service,” Berry reported.

“When the second group was at the very top or close to being fully extended, I heard a loud ‘Pop’ and looked up and the main cable line was falling down towards me,” Berry reported. “Then the bucket came roaring down very fast until it made a complete sudden stop.”

Firefighters on the ground hurried to get to safety.

“After the pop I ran as fast as I could. When the bucket stopped, I just heard the guys moaning in pain,” reported Hall County firefighter Jeremy Hancock.

Shortly thereafter, a call was made to AirLife, the emergency medical helicopter service. At first, only one helicopter was requested, but during the span of the phone call, a second was added.

Gainesville Tower 21 received the call to respond to the scene along with Gainesville medical units.

Hall County paramedic Lt. Shane Kinsey and Gainesville paramedic Justin Carpenter rose up in the aerial bucket, attempting to remove a firefighter, according to Gainesville Fire Capt. Dale Perry’s report.

“Griffin was the first to be extricated from the bucket of (Tower 16) using a sling-type harness, using rope that was placed under his arm to hold him up enough to be pulled from the bucket,” Carpenter reported.

The aerial was then lowered to the side of the training building, where Griffin was moved to a backboard.

Responders “attempted to lower the ladder but the angle of the bucket would not adjust for the angle of the ladder itself so we could not lower it without the risk of the victims falling out,” said Skip Heflin, Hall County Battalion Chief of Training and Development.

After Griffin was secured, Carpenter and Kinsey rose again to extricate another firefighter, and experienced more difficulty the second time.

“They went back up and I could see them having trouble removing 2nd firefighter so I went up the ladder and assisted them,” Gainesville Fire Capt. Kevin Coley reported.

Elliott then was lowered to safety, and Coley and Hall County Fire Capt. Todd Folger switched places, Coley reported.

On the third trip up, Jackson was removed from the Hall County bucket and lowered to the ground. Griffin was transferred immediately to Northeast Georgia Medical Center by ambulance, while Elliott and Jackson were airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

The three firefighters have undergone surgery and are recuperating.

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