Gas leak, highway crash keep firefighters busy

By Jason Hawk -

A gas line break and a highway crash made for a busy weekend for Amherst firefighters.

Workers installing a sewer line hit a utility line just before noon Saturday at Nord Middle School, causing a concerning accumulation of gas at the rear of the building, according to fire chief Jim Wilhelm.

His crew was able to temporarily plug the leak until Columbia Gas arrived.

Just when their worries about an explosion subsided — around 1:15 p.m. — firefighters learned that a Ford Explorer with Alabama plates had flown off the side of Rt. 2.

Wilhelm said the driver didn’t even tap the brakes. Heading west near the Middle Ridge Road exit, the SUV went up and over the eastbound lanes entirely, plunging off the side of the highway and center-punching a tree.

An Elyria firefighter returning home from a house fire saw the wreck, turned around, and attended to the victim until Amherst rescuers arrived.

They discovered that the Explorer had hit the tree so hard “the vehicle bounced backward and landed in a ditch full of water. It was on its wheels, of course, but the trying part of it is our guys stepped in the mud and it went up to their knees,” the chief said.

Firefighters had to put down a ladder so the driver could climb down and across the marshy area to safety.

The driver had heart issues; Wilhelm said the force of the air bag deploying “probably did him a favor” by starting his pacemaker. The man was taken to Mercy Health Lorain Hospital for treatment.

Two other vehicles — a Chevrolet Monte Carlo and a Cadillac Escalade — also crashed when they saw the Explorer careen across Rt. 2. There were no resulting injuries, Wilhelm reported.

The chief was extremely angry about the conduct of passers-by while his workers were on-scene. “It was bad out there,” Wilhelm said, describing cars zipping through the emergency zone, heedless of lights, arrow sticks, and cones.

He estimated some blew past his crew at 75 or 80 mph, ignoring Ohio’s “move over, slow down” law.

“It was ridiculous. There is nothing that is so important for someone to go through an emergency zone that fast. That’s a lack of respect from the people who are driving out there, period,” he said.

Firefighters were also called out twice Sunday to douse illegal open burns.

The nice, warm weather led some to light fire pits to burn their leaves — but Wilhelm said it’s important to remember that there is no open burning in the state of Ohio unless you have a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s also the time of year to check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Any 10 years or older should be entirely replaced, since they will stop working properly after that period.

Carbon monoxide alarms, false alarms, and medical calls — along with fires and crashes — have helped make November a horrendously busy month for Amherst firefighters. As of Monday, they had responded to 54 calls.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk