WATERVILLE – The SUV that slammed into four cars at Post Office Square on March 18 created a rare combination of events.

The crash, which occurred about 4:45 p.m., involved six cars and injured six people, and it was serious enough for dispatchers to call all available rescue responders.

The scale of the damage, which would have been noteworthy for a highway crash, was especially unusual for a 25 mph zone directly in front of the fire station.

And the densely populated downtown location offered bystanders a glimpse into the inner workings of emergency management.

FIRE AND RESCUE

While Nancy Hazard, 42, was traveling south on College Avenue toward the square, firefighter Alan Boucher was talking to his wife on the phone from inside the fire station.

“I heard a squeal and a bang, and I said a few choice words because it scared me,” Boucher said.

He turned toward a window and saw an unlikely sight. “A vehicle was tumbling through the air,” he said.

The vehicle was Hazard’s 2008 Suzuki SX4, which onlookers estimated was traveling more than 70 mph at the time of the crash.

Boucher alerted the other firefighters, most of whom are also emergency medical technicians. A lieutenant rushed out to check people for injuries, while 21 others quickly geared up.

When the fire station doors opened, the responders saw an otherworldly scene of twisted metal, shattered glass and spilling automotive fluids.

Four vehicles were extensively damaged. Two other cars were also damaged, including one that was pushed into the intersection by a car that was hit by Hazard’s SUV.

Chief David LaFountain said firefighters in this case, like any other mass-casualty incident, fell back on their training and followed protocol. The first priority is making sure the scene is safe, he said.

Rather than focus immediately on the injured, firefighters used their trucks to block northbound and southbound traffic to prevent further injuries. With the area secured, firefighters assessed each patient’s injuries and set priorities for their care.

LaFountain said rescue workers need to focus their attention on the most critical injuries until there are enough resources to have at least one emergency medical technician per patient.

Boucher said he and another firefighter went directly to the Suzuki, which was on its side facing the direction it came from. Boucher suspected the driver was more seriously injured than anyone else because her vehicle had flipped and rolled, and because it was soon apparent she hadn’t worn a seatbelt.

The SUV was so badly damaged that the firefighters couldn’t immediately reach the driver, so they quickly gathered extrication equipment.

In the meantime, dispatchers in the police department issued an all-hands call — a request for all local rescue personnel to respond to the scene, including off-duty workers. Boucher estimated that all-hands calls happen once or twice a year.

Responders from Delta Ambulance Services were dispatched. Two ambulances arrived with six emergency medical technicians and a supervisor, and a third unit was en route from Augusta.

Firefighters secured Hazard’s SUV with long metal posts that attach to a car’s frame to keep it from rolling. Next, they fired up the extrication equipment.

“We just did a quick cut and folded the roof down, then we went in and pulled her out,” Boucher said. “From the beginning of the crash until we got her into the ambulance was 10 minutes or less. It was a pretty rapid extrication because of her injuries.”

Boucher said he accompanied Hazard in the ambulance on the ride to MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer Campus.

WORKING THE SCENE

After Hazard was delivered to the emergency room, Boucher returned to College Avenue.

By then, most of the injured had been taken to the hospital and Officer Galen Estes and Sgt. Mike Pion of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office were investigating the accident.

LaFountain said all agencies came together like a well-oiled machine, despite the apparent chaos. “There was no yelling, no screaming; everything was under control,” he said.

Boucher said he and other firefighters never felt pressure working in full view of about 50 onlookers for about three hours.

“We didn’t really notice the crowd until everything was done,” he said. “You get into your own zone and do what you have to do.” 

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Ben McCanna can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

[email protected]