The collision that left a Buffalo fire truck overturned Tuesday morning on South Elmwood Avenue may have been a dangerous example of what can happen when car drivers are surprised by a second emergency vehicle.
Witnesses said several vehicles pulled over after seeing and hearing a southbound fire truck's lights and sirens as it went through the intersection of South Elmwood Avenue and West Chippewa Street at about 9 a.m.
But a second fire truck known as an "air truck," which supplies firefighters their air tanks went through the intersection a few seconds later and collided with a car whose driver was trying to turn left onto Chippewa.
That car was one of several vehicles that had pulled over but then proceeded through the intersection after the first fire truck went by, an eyewitness said.
"I think the first truck passed, and they thought it was safe," said Ian Tichell, a Buffalo attorney who was northbound on South Elmwood. "This wasn't a case of [a civilian driver] being careless."
After the collision, the air truck overturned, struck another vehicle and landed on its side against a building on the west side of Elmwood, just south of Chippewa. The two fire trucks were racing to a downtown blaze, at Cathedral Park and Main Street, at the time of the crash.
The fire lieutenant driving the air truck was taken to a local hospital, but authorities said they believe he was taken there as a precaution after he was extricated by Rescue 1. He was treated and released.
Tichell said the two fire trucks were blocks apart. He pulled over, heading north on South Elmwood, and believes that the second truck was on the other side of West Tupper Street when the first truck passed through Chippewa.
"I could see the second truck's emergency lights, but did not hear any siren, so I remained pulled over," Tichell stated in an email. "I watched as the cars [that] were heading south and had pulled over to let the first truck through [pulled] back out into traffic, not realizing this second truck was approaching from behind."
"That's how the car that got hit turning left onto Chippewa was in the way," he added. "He clearly had no idea the second truck was approaching. I'm glad no one was seriously hurt."
The air truck sustained extensive damage, but authorities said the building that was struck had only minor damage.
The Accident Investigation Unit still is investigating the accident, but no charges have been filed, Buffalo police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said late Tuesday.
Fire officials said the blaze at 4 Cathedral Park, where the fire trucks were headed, broke out in the vestibule of that building, leaving an estimated $10,000 damage. The cause remains under investigation.