FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The emergency response to the February 11 pileup on Interstate-35W was massive.
MedStar reports they had 34 personnel on scene working alongside 80 police officers and close to 70 firefighters. Not counted in those numbers are the dozens of tow truck drivers who helped first responders not only clear the mangled wreckage, but lift thousands of pounds of crushed vehicles so that firefighters could rescue people trapped.
James Bennett Jr. not only owns Beard’s Towing, one of the tow truck companies that responded to Thursday’s crash, but also is the “Incident Management Commander” for the Traffic Incident Management System in the area. This position means Bennett oversaw coordinating the response of close to 90 tow trucks that were on scene helping with the crash.
In addition to that, his company often hosts extrication trainings for DFW first responders. Training that played a crucial role in the emergency response yesterday.
“The main purposes of [the training] is for each industry — the police department, the fire department, the tow companies, the EMS and the hazmat teams — to know the tools that each industry and every department has at their disposal,” Bennett says.
Tools that play a critical role in safely rescuing people trapped in the wreckage of a crash.
“So if you have something that weighs 45,000 to 80,000 pounds trapped on top of something that weighs less than a ton, we need to be able to remove that carefully and safely so firefighters can get in there and do their job,” Bennett explains.
Photos of their training sessions look eerily similar to what emergency crews dealt with on I-35W in Fort Worth.
The training shows flipped big rigs crushing cars between concrete barriers and Jaws of Life being used to pry open smashed vehicles.
It’s training that helps first responders practice and know exactly how to assess and handle these situations when they happen in real life.
Bennett says the training goes beyond just learning new skills, it helps first responders and tow truck drivers build trust and comradery that allows them to work as a team in moments where minutes can mean life or death for crash victims.
“It becomes one of those things where we are not looking to see who is in charge,” Bennett explains. “We are looking to see, and to make sure, each position we get into is efficient and effective for the goal we are trying to get and yesterday’s goal was to get the victims out.”
Bennett says he and his team worked until midnight Thursday clearing the wreckage from the interstate. He says he has never seen such a horrific crash in Texas before and hopes to never see anything like it again.