Emergency responders wary of I-80 detour rollovers
April 2, 2009
NEVADA CITY ” Emergency responders are preparing for possible wrecks in western Nevada County as Caltrans diverts big rigs and buses around a major construction project on Interstate 80 onto dark, narrow and winding stretches of highways 20 and 49.
Nevada County Consolidated Fire District has contingency plans to deal with mass casualty incidents, trucks carrying hazardous materials and an increase in brake fires and big rig roll overs, said Chief Tim Fike.
“It’s pretty much inevitable we’re going to have big rigs crashing” because of the sheer volume of trucks on the roads, Fike said. “It’s not a route truckers are used to.”
The first day of the detour, which started Tuesday evening, went without incident, Fike said.
Fire crews from Nevada County Consolidated often are the first on the scene and respond to highway calls from Brewer Road on Highway 49 to Bear Valley on Highway 20.
In recent history, big rigs rolled over on three previous occasions when traffic was re-routed from I-80 to Highway 20, Fike said.
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Brake fires are a common occurrence on I-80, and Fike predicted they could become equally frequent along the 3-mile grade on Highway 20 between Harmony Ridge and Nevada City, a stretch that offers no place for drivers to pull over and let hot brakes cool down.
Brake fires can quickly extend into the cargo department of the truck, Fike said.
As part of emergency preparedness, Fike is identifying the closest available helicopters and ambulances from surrounding counties in the event of a collision involving numerous injuries.
Helicopters can land at White Cloud ranger station and Bear Valley on Highway 20 if a patient needs to be airlifted to a hospital.
Trucks traveling uphill on the rural roadways could slow emergency vehicles’ response times to traffic accidents and encourage frustrated drivers of passenger vehicles to pass unsafely, Fike said.
“There’s just not that many good passing places,” he said.
Fike is coordinating with the county’s transit department to use county buses to transport uninjured passengers of tour buses if a crash occurs. The busload of people will be taken to Fire Station 84 on Coyote Street in Nevada City.
The detour will occur in the summer months when firefighters are stretched thin by wildfire season.
– The detour from Interstate 80 onto highways 20 and 49 will be from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Sunday night through Friday morning through October.
– Large trucks, buses and recreational vehicles are detoured between I-80 and the Highway 20 interchange and at Highway 49 or Bell Road in Auburn.
– Vehicle traffic is detoured from the Secret Town exit on I-80 and Highway 174 in Colfax.
– Caltrans will redirect east- and westbound traffic at two-week intervals.