MORAGA -- The Moraga-Orinda Fire District is reviewing safety policies in the wake of an investigation into a December multicar crash that sent three Moraga-Orinda Fire District firefighters and one motorist to the hospital.

Released June 5, the investigative report deconstructs what happened that stormy morning on a rain-soaked Highway 24 when Capt. Michael Rattery and firefighters Kelly Morris and Stephen Rogness were hit by a car as they tended to a four-vehicle accident. A motorist exiting his car after hitting a fire engine already at the scene was also struck. None of the four had life-threatening injuries.

Authored by private consultant and Lawrence Livermore National Lab Fire Marshal John Sharry, and reviewed by a peer committee, the report praises firefighters, paramedics and a quick-thinking captain whose decision to move an ambulance away from the initial crash scene kept it from being struck by another vehicle.

But it also points out several policy and operating deficiencies that contributed to an already bad situation on a section of freeway between Orinda and the Caldecott Tunnel fire officials say is an accident hot spot.

Those deficiencies include issues with establishing temporary traffic controls such as signs warning motorists they were approaching an accident; limited traffic control information on district training sheets and a lack of adherence to safety policies, including not wearing a "retroreflective" vests required of firefighters at incidents on or near roadways unless they're fighting a fire.


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"MOFD doesn't have a formal policy about operations on the highway," Sharry said. "I don't believe that the district gave adequate guidance to its members for the dangers of operating on the highway."

The report's findings and recommendations include:

  • Adopting a formal policy on freeway operations. Sharry said the district has three policies that deal mostly with rescue, but not with traffic management. The report recommended reviewing certain guidelines about blocking an accident scene, and said the placement of a fire engine that day was a factor in the accident because it partially obstructed a lane.

  • Providing advance motorist warning of accident scenes. Sharry recommended the district work with Caltrans to provide electronic signs alerting drivers of incident ahead of them. Sharry said motorists approaching the December accident scene on the partially flooded highway had no warning of the fire engine sitting in the middle of the road.

  • Crafting guidelines about safeguarding civilians or "patients" in addition to firefighters at an area of activity such as a highway accident.

    The district updates policies on vehicle accident responses on an as-needed basis, said Stephen Healy, MOFD division chief-operations, in an e-mail. Firefighter-paramedics also receive vehicle accident response training and participate in annual simulations.

    Fire Chief Randy Bradley said the district is embracing the report's recommendations, and is working with the firefighter's union to address each one. Fire officials are also meeting with Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol about traffic control.