Ky. firefighter’s tragic death brings protocol changes

Grayson County News-Gazette

GLENDALE, Ky. — Local fire departments are considering making changes to their protocol in the wake of a Glendale tragedy which claimed the life of a 25-year-old volunteer firefighter on Wednesday morning.

Jonathan E. French, a second-generation volunteer firefighter, was killed in the line of duty in the early-morning hours of August 6 as he worked to put out a vehicle which was burning in the southbound lane of I-65.

French was struck by a tractor trailer as he worked alongside other firefighters, including his mother, who was seriously injured in the accident as well.

While most people recognize the danger firefighters place themselves in the face of during structure fires, they may not realize the hazardous situation they are in when working accidents along local roadways. While each situation varies and each department follows a strict set of protocol, first responders often find themselves working very close to open lanes of traffic.

Clarkson Volunteer Fire Department’s Chief Andy Cain announced on Wednesday morning that his crew would be changing their protocol for such situations effective immediately.

As Cain stood in the westbound lane of Western Kentucky Parkway, where his volunteers had shut down traffic just hours after the tragedy which took French’s life, the chief said that from this point forward, his department will not work alongside moving traffic.

“We will shut it down completely,” Cain said, citing the safety of his firefighters, other first responders on scene and accident victims.

Ryan Hatfield, the department’s Lieutenant and Public Relations Officer was at the scene as well, and said that the morning’s tragedy “hit close to home.” While Hatfield volunteers with the CVFD, his works full time in Emergency Services in Hardin County and frequently deals with the Glendale Fire Department.

Hatfield said that he and Cain, along with other members of the department, met for breakfast just hours after the Glendale incident to discuss what changes they could implement to make things safer here in Grayson County.

Leitchfield Fire Department’s Chief Jerry Schlosser said following the incident that his department will be looking into the possibility of protocol changes as well.

“When a tragedy like this happens, it makes you say, ‘Hey we need to do something about it or at least take a look at what we’re doing and make sure it’s the best possible option.’” Schlosser said.

“There may be other alternatives to shutting the whole thing down,” Schlosser said, “and I’m going to look into that.”

Schlosser called French’s death ‘heartbreaking,’ and noted that during televised coverage of the fatal accident, he noticed that the fire trucks nearby were parked mostly off of the roadway instead of in the right lane of traffic as to force moving vehicles over into the left lane. Schlosser feels that the placement of trucks has the potential to create either a safer situation in which to work or a more dangerous one.

He concluded by saying that protocol changes will likely be a big topic of discussion at the next meeting of area fire chiefs on Tuesday, September 2.

Caneyville Fire Department’s Chief, Anthony Clark, said on Thursday that he does not plan to implement any changes at this time in how his department handles accidents on roadways.

“If its safe for traffic to flow, we let it flow.” Clark said, “If it’s not safe for us or for a victim of an accident, then we stop traffic.”

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