Engineer blames manufacturer for fatal '04 Pa. fire hose accident

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
Copyright 2006 P.G. Publishing Co.

An engineer testified in a civil suit yesterday that a proper restraint could have prevented a fire hose from breaking loose from a Coraopolis fire engine two years ago, killing a 10-year-old girl and injuring her friend.

"Whether it was perfectly packed or imperfectly packed" in its storage unit, said David J. Bizzak, an expert witness for the plaintiffs, "my opinion is there was a potential for that hose to fall out." Tests he conducted determined that a speed of 17 to 191/2 mph was enough to propel the hose from its container.

He said manufacturers and their engineers are responsible for anticipating human error and are charged with designing products to prevent freak accidents.

On the afternoon of Aug. 19, 2004, a four-man crew from the Coraopolis Volunteer Fire Department was rushing to a basement fire on Mount Vernon Avenue when a hose slipped from its casing on the truck.

As the hose unraveled into the street, its 6-pound nozzle struck several cars on Mount Vernon, caught on a tire and was propelled into a crowd on the sidewalk, mortally wounding Erin Schmidt and severely injuring Joeylynne Jeffress, 10, both of Coraopolis. Erin's mother, Joyce A. Schmidt, who had gone outside to tell the girls to move in from the sidewalk, was also hit.

The Coraopolis fire department now uses mesh netting to hold its fire hoses in place.

The girls' families are suing the fire company and two manufacturers, Freightliner Specialty Vehicles and Sinor Manufacturing, for damages.

The jury saw videotaped testimony yesterday from two doctors at Children's Hospital in Oakland.

On one tape, Dr. Philip D. Adelson, the director of pediatric neurotrauma, reviewed medical records of ambulance and helicopter paramedics and doctors at the hospital who treated Erin.

He said she had a 5-by-2-inch laceration from her lip to her forehead and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. She was placed on a ventilator but never regained consciousness from the time of her injury. A CT scan convinced doctors "this wasn't a survivable injury." Erin died the following evening.

In the other taped deposition, Dr. Bernard J. Costello, an oromaxillofacial surgeon, told about treating Erin's friend, Joeylynne.

He reviewed a photograph of her before surgery, pointing to what he described as "the worst cheekbone fracture" he'd ever seen in a child. Her face and eyelids were lacerated, her muscles and ligaments torn, and her right eye socket, upper jaw and forehead fractured. He put three sets of plates and screws in her face.

He examined Joeylynne, now 12, this month and said she has responded well to treatment, but her jaw may grow in unevenly.

Testimony is set to resume today before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Michael A. Della Vecchia.

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