Personnel: Travis Lyn Wiens
Agency/Organization: Wichita West Volunteer Fire Department, Wichita Falls TX
Summary: Firefighter Wiens responded as the passenger in a brush engine that responded to a wildland fire. When the engine arrived on the scene, Firefighter Wiens boarded the extended front bumper of the 5-ton converted military cargo truck and began to apply water on the fire. The road on which the truck was operating was obscured by heavy smoke. As the truck reached the end of the fire front, the driver began to make a U-turn across the roadway to make another pass at the fire front. The truck was in the middle of the U-turn when it was struck by a ¾-ton pickup truck that drove through the smoke. The impact caused the driver of the fire truck, who was not wearing a seat belt, to be thrown across the interior of the cab. The impact also threw Firefighter Wiens off the front platform and knocked his helmet off. Firefighter Wiens landed on the ground with his head in front of the left front wheel of the truck. The truck, which was still in gear with no one behind the wheel, rolled over Firefighter Wiens and inflicted massive head injuries. Firefighter Wiens was pronounced dead at the scene. Criminally negligent homicide charges were filed against the driver of the fire apparatus and the driver of the pickup.
Wichita West Volunteer Fire Department, Wichita Falls, TX
- NIOSH Report: Volunteer Fire Fighter Dies After Being Run Over by Brush Truck During Grass Fire Attack - Texas
NIOSH investigators concluded that, to minimize the risk of similar occurrences, fire departments should
- ensure that fire fighters attack a brush fire from a safe place on the apparatus or walk alongside the moving apparatus
- ensure that adequate traffic control is in place before turning attention to the emergency
- enforce Standard Operating Procedures that require operators of fire apparatus to wear seat belts (restraints) whenever operating the vehicle
- TX State Fire Marshall's Office: Line of Duty Death Investigation (252 K pdf)
- Texas Firefighter Killed ; Volunteer Run Over After Fire Truck Hit by Pickup
8/12/2002 | Trish Choate of TRN Online (posted on firehouse.com; no longer online)
A volunteer firefighter lost his life while battling a fire Monday afternoon in Wichita County, officials said.
A member of the Wichita West Volunteer Fire Department was killed instantly when the fire truck he was riding on collided with a pickup on Old State Road a few miles outside Wichita Falls, Wichita County Sheriff's Lt. David Duke said.
Authorities were withholding the name until his family was notified, he said.
"This young man, he was not paid to do this. He chose to do this, " Duke, a member of Wichita West, said. "These guys do this because they want to volunteer."
The man's death is the second in the volunteer department's history, Duke said. Even as they knew a fellow firefighter had been seriously injured, Wichita West firefighters continued to battle a grassfire between 82 and Old State Road. They had to fight the flames for a few hours after his death.
About 4:17 p.m. Monday, Wichita West firefighters responded to a call, officials said. The first truck on the scene was the one with the firefighter who was later killed. The road would have been blocked off as soon as units arrived to do it, and policy was followed in fighting the fire.
When the first truck arrived, the firefighter and driver faced heavy flames and strong wind pushing the flames toward Old State Road, Duke said. Thick grass would have provided ample fuel for the fire, and it was already trying to jump across the road.
The firefighter was riding in a cage on the front bumper of the truck to fight the flames with a hose, officials said. That's a standard practice. The truck was heading east, and then the driver made a U-turn to better position it to battle the flames.
David Luther Brown, 48, of Holiday was driving home from work, heading west down Old State Road in a 2000 F250 red pickup, Department of Public Safety Trooper Bill Browning said. Brown couldn't see through the smoke and hit the right front wheel of the truck.
The impact knocked off the firefighter off the truck, officials said. The fire truck driver did not have time to react, and the front left tire of the truck ran over the firefighter.
The impact pushed the five-ton truck about 15 feet, Duke said. The driver of the pickup was not hurt. But he was taken to 11th Street Campus to be evaluated.
He was treated and released Monday evening, a nursing supervisor said.
Wichita County fire investigators are looking into the cause of the fire, Duke said. If it's arson, charges might be filed, and capital murder is one of the possibilities. The fire was still burning in some spots at about 7:30 p.m. No more than three or four acres had burned, and firefighters stopped it from leaping across the road.
The firefighter's body has been sent to Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office in Fort Worth for an autopsy, Duke said.
The investigation of the accident is ongoing, and Browning wasn't sure if DPS would file any charges against the driver, he said.
Volunteer firefighters have insurance and benefits in case of death in the line of duty, Duke said. The loss saddened area firefighters, who gathered at the Wichita West Fire Department on Highway 82. The department has about 22 members, but many more than that came to the department Monday night.
"It's been many years since the last firefighter was killed in the line of duty," Duke said.
The man's death was rough on area firefighters, he said. And those at the scene of the accident were upset and traumatized.
- Wichita West, Texas Firefighters Mourn the Loss of Friend; Volunteer Run Over After Fire Truck Hit by Pickup
8/13/2002 | Trish Choate of the Times Record News, Wichita Falls (posted on firehouse.com; no longer online)
Just before he rolled out of bed to battle a blaze at 6:49 a.m. Tuesday, Wichita West Volunteer Fire Department Chief Buddy Alexander wondered how many firefighters would show up to deal with it.
They were still dealing with something else.
Less than 24 hours before, the department had lost Travis Wiens. A dedicated firefighter and paramedic, the 28-year-old Wichita County man had a big grin and big heart for everyone. He died Monday afternoon while fighting a fire. Services are pending with Dutton Funeral Home of Iowa Park. If only someone could turn back the clock.
"That's what we all said yesterday, but we knew we would have to deal with reality," Alexander said. "We've lost him, and there's nothing we can do to change it."
The morning after Wiens' death, more than one-third of Wichita West's 22 volunteer firefighters showed up to douse a grassfire on FM 368 South, Alexander said. That was more than the usual turnout for the early morning.
No doubt, Wiens would have approved.
"He loved what he was doing, and he basically dedicated his life to emergency medical services and firefighting," Alexander said.
Wiens and another firefighter were first on the scene Monday at a grassfire between Old State Road and Seymour Highway, officials said. A man drove a pickup through heavy smoke on Old State Road and hit the fire truck while it was attempting a U-turn, a legal maneuver for the emergency vehicle.
The impact knocked Wiens off the front of the truck where he was fighting the fire from a cage on the bumper, officials said. The fire truck ran over him, and he was killed instantly. The fire truck driver was treated and released Monday at the 11th Street Campus of United Regional Health Care System. Authorities are investigating the wreck.
The Wichita County Sheriff's Office has ruled the blaze accidental, Lt. David Duke said. Sparks from the property owner's cutting torch smoldered, eventually igniting a full-fledged grassfire. No charges will be filed.
Firefighters around the area were mulling over Wiens' death Tuesday. Electra volunteer firefighters were coming to grips with the death of a man they worked beside for 18 months.
Johnny Thompson, Electra fire marshal, sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Wiens in a picture of the department shot in 2000. Wiens grins unabashedly into the camera.
"He had a good attitude, and that's pretty important for a volunteer," Thompson said. "He was just one of those people. He didn't stand back. He stepped forward to do what he could."
He and his wife, Stephanie, also were foster parents, Thompson said. They brought children of all ages and races to department events.
Area firefighters aren't the only ones grieving for Wiens.
Comrades from a different front in the battle against emergencies rushed to his aid Monday afternoon. They came in an ambulance.
Wiens had been a paramedic at American Medical Response for about two years, never quenching his passion for helping people.
Joanna Burgan was his partner.
"He made my job very easy," Burgan said. "He was what you'd want in a partner."
Wiens' co-workers gathered around a table Tuesday afternoon at AMR, reaching for tissues now and then. Many wore a black ribbon punctuated by a gold cross in his honor. They recalled his enthusiasm, dedication and eagerness to learn.
Wiens showed up for work every day at 6:20 a.m. His shift started at 7 a.m.
"He'd be here trying to talk me out of my keys and pager," Angela Jordan said.
When calls were hammering the medics, it was all right with Wiens.
"I wonder where we're going to go next, what we're going to do," he would say.
"Every call was always the most thrilling and the best he'd ever had," Jordan said.
The last emergency Burgan and Wiens responded to was at 4:30 a.m. Monday. A man had died. Wiens and Burgan comforted the family, facing fresh grief.
"He did an excellent job," Burgan said. "It was hard for him, but he did an excellent job."
When Clifford "Twister" Frodyma answered a call to Old State Road Monday afternoon, he hoped it wasn't Wiens who lay there mortally injured. But he was almost certain it was.
It made it pretty hard to treat the others," Frodyma said. "But we still had to take care of what was out there."
AMR medics took time during their grief to talk Tuesday for one simple reason:
"We want people to know Travis like we do. He wasn't just another ambulance driver. He wasn't just a hose dragger," Burgan said. "To be a public servant, you have to be a special person because you have to give up your total self to help others."
And that's what he did.
The funeral for Travis Wiens will be held 2 p.m. Saturday, August 17 at the Life Tabernacle Church, 4350 Seymour Highway in Wichita Falls. Burial will be at the Highland Cemetery in Iowa Park. Apparatus should be at the church by 1 p.m. for placement. For information contact the Wichita West VFD at (940)692-1981.
- USFA Memorial Database: Travis Lyn Wiens
- The USFA database lists the incident and death date as 8/12/02, which is correct. The NIOSH Report corrected its date to August 12 as well.
Contributors to this article: Midland, Mellie
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