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Severe accident on the BAB A3 near Rohrbrunn (Aschaffenburg region)

Category: National Firefighting Team of the Year

Fire department: Freiwillige Feuerwehren Waldaschaff & Weibersbrunn (Bavaria)

Operation: Accident with several trucks

On Thursday, November 9, 2017, a severe traffic accident with a total of five trucks occurred on the BAB A3 near Rohrbrunn. Three persons were killed and two others injured in the accident. The operation required teamwork between a number of regional departments, especially from Weibersbrunn and Waldaschaff. The Weibersbrunn and Waldaschaff FDs, both of which border on the BAB and are direct neighbours, regularly coordinate their alarm planning and operational tactics. 

An articulated trailer of a parcel service company with two persons was on the way to Nuremberg. At the scene of the accident, the driver overlooked a small commercial vehicle with platform body that was braking and swerved to the left to try and avoid it. He collided with the small vehicle, ended up on the left, driving across the middle partition of the construction site and ran head-on into a gravel-laden semitrailer combination going to Frankfurt. The collision caused this vehicle to skid and revolve completely around the parcel carrier, tip to the left and come to a stop on its side across the road. The cab of the truck with the gravel projected over a hillside.

The force of the impact ripped the swap body apart from the articulated trailer; parts of the load fell down the bank of the hill. A semitrailer following the tipper trailer was unable to brake and also crashed into the parcel service vehicle. Furthermore, a truck going towards Würzburg was also damaged in the accident.

In accordance with the alarm planning, the Weibersbrunn, Waldaschaff and Bessenbach FDs as well as fire chief Otto Hofmann (Waldaschaff) and regional fire chief Karl-Heinz Ostheimer (Grossostheim) were called at 4:24 am by the ILS of Bavarian Untermain with the key “THL5” and “#T3112#VU#several trucks with trapped persons”. They were ordered to go to the Motorway A3 at kilometre 237 towards Würzburg, near the Spessart rest area. At that time, the weather was wet and cold with temperatures of around 5° C.

Due to a traffic jam with no emergency lane due to the construction site, the approaching fire department members decided to take a forest road parallel to the motorway to the Spessart rest area. Because the first report had said that the deployment site was on the way to Würzburg, the first vehicles of the Weibersbrunn and Waldaschaff FDs as well as fire chief Hofmann drove onto the motorway at the Spessart-Süd rest area, managing to find their way between the completely blocked parking lot. But the deployment site in the construction area was actually circa 200 metres in front of the Spessart-Nord rest area on the way to Frankfurt. The following fire engines thus entered the motorway via the actual exit of the Spessart-Nord rest area against the direction of travel.

A first evaluation of the situation revealed a huge area of wreckage with trucks in grotesque positions across both carriageways. Altogether five trucks – three semitrailers, an articulated truck and a small commercial vehicle – were involved in the accident. 

Fred Gellner, the fire chief and commander of the Weibersbrunn FD, fire chief Otto Hofmann both explored the very confusing site. According to the police and the previously arrived ambulance crew, there were presumably two dead persons and another seriously injured. A seriously injured driver of the parcel-service vehicle had by then been resuscitated by the ambulance crew. The fatally injured driver of the overturned gravel truck was completely trapped in his cab. The cab was hanging over a steep slope and threatened to slide down. The passenger of the parcel-service vehicle had been thrown out of the sleeping cabin by the accident and lay next to the truck. He had also suffered fatal injuries. The three drivers of the other crashed vehicles had only suffered slight injuries.

After organising the area, the order of operations was established: securing the cab of the gravel truck, which was in danger of sliding down the slope, securing the other trucks, recovering the driver of the gravel truck, illuminating the accident site and ensuring protection against fire, and measures to prevent any more fuel leakage.

To recover the body of the truck driver, the cab first had to be secured with a winch and a gripper. Subsequently, the A-pillar of the cab was cut with rescue shears and the cabin pushed forward with a rescue ram. These tasks were executed via a scaling ladder secured to the cab. The driver could then be recovered from the cab on a basket stretcher.

Because the operation site was contaminated with massive amounts of diesel fuel and oil, the responsible authorities in Aschaffenburg and the wastewater treatment plant in Rohrbrunn were notified. Foldable oil catchpans were positioned beneath the dripping tanks and large quantities of oil binding agents were applied. All forces present were completely busy with these tasks. Thus, the Dammbach FD was also notified at 4:58 am and asked to take over fire protection duties for the entire area. In the meantime, the gravely injured driver of the parcel-service vehicle was transferred to the hospital, where he died in the early hours of the morning due to his injuries.

Following the protective measures, the FD members began to dismantle the roadway guardrails at the construction site, using in particular the two rescue vehicles from Weibersbrunn and Waldaschaff. Aided by impact wrenches, the mini-guards were disassembled and a rescue platform for easier work at the deployment site over the median strip created. 

Drivers were being warned by radio to bypass the entire affected motorway area and FD members from Waldaschaff, Dammbach as well as Hessenthal took over directing drivers via detours as well as blocking the Weibersbrunn and Bessenbach/Waldaschaff motorway entrances towards Würzburg.

After the complicated and prolonged arrival of a salvage company with a crane, the crew members were able to support the company’s personnel. To salvage the trucks, vehicle frames had to be cut with acetylene/oxygen and plasma cutters; guardrails also had to be separated.

The gravel from the overturned tipper was removed by the construction company working in the construction area. The contents of the parcel truck were reloaded onto a substitute vehicle by the salvage company with the support of firefighters. For this, widely scattered packages and package containers had to be collected.

Because fuel had leaked into an old rain retention basin below the motorway, and to prevent an oil-diesel mixture from overflowing into a nearby stream, it was secured with an oil barrier, the inlet to the rain retention basin was sealed by a tarpaulin and the flowing water was diverted to a lateral outlet with a pump. This security measure was kept in place by a specialised company until the water-oil mixture could be completely pumped out.

Despite excellent communication between the fire departments, police, rescue services as well as the motorways maintenance personnel, the operation lasted into the evening hours due to the tight quarters, problematic approaches and departures, traffic jams and the difficulties getting recovery vehicles to the accident scene. The participating fire departments could end the operation at 7 pm.