Investigation finds fire truck collapse was second in one month



HALL COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News has learned the collapse of a ladder on a Hall County fire truck is the second within the past month involving trucks made by the same manufacturer, despite a recent recall.

Doctors are treating Hall County fire department's T.J. Elliot, Will Griffin and Stephen Jackson for back injuries after the incident.

Investigative reporter Aaron Diamant went to Gwinnett County, where the county fire department has sidelined several of its ladder trucks while inspectors sort out what happened in Hall County.

Diamant was able to see one of the four ladder trucks Gwinnett County fire pulled out of service. This after the company that built the trucks asked its customers to stop using the trucks until it can confirm what caused the ladder collapse up the road in Hall County. Documents he found show this isn't the first time a collapse sent the company scrambling.

Channel 2 Action News cameras were there Thursday as inspectors from fire truck-maker Sutphen Corporation looked for clues to what caused the aerial on a Hall County ladder truck to drop suddenly during a training exercise this week. The incident sent three firefighters inside the bucket into a 40-foot free fall. 

"Our firefighters put trust in their equipment to do its job, so it's very important for us to find out what happened exactly," said Hall County Fire Marshal Scott Cagle.

Diamant saw those inspectors spending a lot of time examining and photographing the now frayed wire cable that lifts and lowers the ladder.  The big question is, ‘Why did it snap?’

"This company has expressed they want to get down to the bottom of it just as much as we do," Cagle said.

Hall County just bought the eight-year-old truck directly from Sutphen in April. But Diamant found the company issued a federal recall notice for that model and three others - more than 150 ladder trucks - last September after a similar 2012 collapse in Arizona.

In that case, the company found, "the main cables were worn out,” weakened from rubbing against guide-wheels that stopped spinning when the bearings inside seized up.

The company concluded, "Lack of proper maintenance is what caused the bearings to fail."

But inspectors quickly ruled out bad maintenance as the cause of the Hall County collapse.

"Other than that, nothing else has been ruled out, so we'll have to wait and see," Cagle said.

Diamant says Sutphen has already accepted responsibility for installing the wrong cables in a ladder truck that collapsed and injured three other firefighters near Erie, Penn. in April.

The Hall County government spokesperson confirmed that the county has hired an  independent investigator to conduct a thorough review of the incident and to look for a cause. The truck will not be released back to the manufacturer for inspection or transported back to Ohio, until independent investigators collects the evidence and information he needs on site.

And while Hall County’s truck will soon head back to the company's Ohio headquarters for a detailed inspection, the hearts of firefighters remain with the men who got hurt.

"It takes on a new meaning when it's involving your own family," Cagle said.

Diamant doesn’t know how long the remaining ladder trucks like this one will be out of service. His calls and emails to company leaders were not returned Thursday. But a statement posted on the company website says its priority is the safety of its firefighters.

Channel 2 Action News

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