CAWP News 10-10
CAWP Contractor’s Employees Hailed for Actions
In the few seconds it took for a dump truck to smash into two pickups on Tuesday afternoon, six employees of Charles J. Merlo Inc. were transformed from bridge workers into emergency responders.
Toiling in the third week of a bridge-replacement project, they found themselves frantically pulling hot paving material from the trapped victim of an accident that happened just a football field's length away.
On Wednesday, officials said those actions made a big difference in a life-or-death situation. "It truly helped in saving the man's life," said Joe Racz, Ashville Volunteer Fire Company chief.
State police on Wednesday released no names or other details in the accident that happened before 3 p.m. Tuesday in Dean Township, which is north of Gallitzin in eastern Cambria County.
Racz said Ashville firefighters were dispatched at 2:33 p.m. to the wreck on Route 53 in Dean.
A construction truck - which had no connection to the nearby bridge project - hit one pickup and then plowed into another, the chief said.
"After he struck the second pickup truck, he overturned, spilling his load onto that pickup," Racz said.
Making matters worse, that load consisted of hot blacktop that's typically transported at temperatures as high as 400 degrees.
Jim Swetland was standing at a trailer when he saw and heard the accident happen. The bridge project's superintendent has 31 years of experience with Merlo, a Mineral Point-based contractor.
Before Swetland could react, Merlo employee John Marshall - who had been piloting a frontend loader - was at the accident scene.
"(Marshall) yelled to me, 'We need shovels,' " Swetland said.
Marshall had wrapped a vest around his hands and was pulling scalding paving material from the pickup. Others arrived, using shovels and working quickly. Swetland estimates that as much as 500 to 600 pounds of asphalt had spilled onto and inside the pickup.
"I know how hot it is, because we work with that stuff all the time," Swetland said, adding that his men rendered first aid when they were able to clear away some of the steaming blacktop.
The front-end loader also came in handy, as Merlo's workers pulled the tipped-over construction vehicle upright. They tried in vain to open the pickup's door to free the victim.
"We couldn't do it," Swetland said. "That's with three different people pounding as hard as we could."
When firefighters arrived, it took them another 20 minutes - using specialized tools – to open the smashed vehicle. Without the prior efforts of the Merlo crew, it would have taken much longer.
"They saved the fire department an incredible amount of time," Racz said.
The pickup driver who had been trapped was burned and injured from the crash.
Racz said the victim was flown from the scene by medical helicopter, first to Altoona and later to a Pittsburgh hospital. His condition was unavailable Wednesday.
Racz said the driver of the first pickup was unhurt, while the man at the wheel of the dump truck was transported to Altoona by ambulance.
Crews remained on scene for hours conducting investigatory and cleanup work. Route 53 was closed until about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
A state police investigation is ongoing.
Source: Tribune Democrat, Article by Mike Faher, 8/12/10