Michelle Earl 276-696-3283
Aug. 19, 2015
New fire trucks enhance safety at I-77 mountain tunnels
BRISTOL— The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) recently added two fire trucks to the I-77 mountain tunnels in an effort to further enhance safety at the facilities.
VDOT in partnership with Transportation Operation and Management, LLC, Tazewell, Va., the staffing contractor for the tunnels, will use the trucks as preliminary response until local fire and rescue arrive.
Last year’s truck fire in the northbound lanes of East River Mountain Tunnel wasn’t the reason for adding the fire trucks, but it did assure department officials of the need.
“Last year’s truck fire incident in East River Mountain Tunnel wasn’t the push for adding the fire trucks because that effort was already in motion,” Leon Groseclose, tunnel manager for East River and Big Walker Mountain tunnels, said. “However, the incident further solidified the addition of these trucks to ensure a quicker response and better protection of motorists and the tunnels in the event of future fires.”
Efforts to purchase the trucks began summer 2013 and the effort to train personnel and procure the vehicles wrapped up in June.
On each tunnel shift, there are four employees trained to use the fire equipment. Each will receive training on a regular basis to ensure their skills are current.
Both tunnels had in-house fire pumpers until the mid-1990s. Due to more stringent training standards and the cost associated with implementing those standards, as well as increased operating and maintenance costs, the tunnels removed the in-house departments and relied on local fire departments.
In recent years, efforts to re-establish an in-house fire department became a priority.
“Local fire and rescue teams are of great value, but having the ability to respond right at the tunnel to fires when they occur greatly enhances safety,” Groseclose said.
Interstate 77 Big Walker Mountain Tunnel opened to traffic in 1972 and East River Mountain Tunnel in 1974. On average, approximately 30,000 vehicles per day pass through the tunnels.
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