Two Martin County firefighters believe they are lucky to be alive after the fire truck they were riding in fell through a bridge and into a creek.
Members of the Warfield Volunteer Fire Department responded to a house fire early Monday morning in the Pilgrim community, about 10 miles south of Warfield.
Rhonda Estepp and Gregory Alley were riding in the department’s main fire engine when they tried to cross a bridge on Blackburn Cemetery Road.
“The next thing I know, the cab of the engine is tilting up into the air,” Alley said. “It’s a little blurry after that. I mostly remember red lights, hill side and then water rushing into the cab of the engine.”
The bridge collapsed, sending the fire truck into the creek below.
Alley, the driver, helped Estepp escape while he remained trapped with the water rising rapidly.
“I was thinking about getting my partner out,” Alley said Monday afternoon, fighting back tears. “That was the only thing I was thinking about.”
Estepp, also emotional and shaken after the incident, said, “I was thinking about my daughter and my son. I had just gotten off the phone with my daughter not 30 minutes prior. It just broke my heart that she may not get to talk to me again.”
Both firefighters made it out with the help of other first responders.
Since firefighters were not able to make it across the bridge, they could not extinguish the flames at the house. However, the house was abandoned and nobody was hurt by the fire.
Alley suffered a torn rotator cuff, while Estepp had several torn muscles.
“Bruised everywhere, beaten everywhere,” Estepp said. “I feel like I’ve been in a drier on tumble.”
Doctors expect both firefighters to make full recoveries after physical therapy.
Alley and Estepp have known each other for more than 20 years, they said.
Fire officials said the truck cannot be repaired.
The loss of the truck, combined with the loss of equipment in the collapse, is setting the department back around $300 thousand.
Warfield firefighters said they’ll have to rely on departments in nearby Inez and Kermit, West Virginia, for help until they can figure out how to replace what they lost.