CLEARFIELD, Utah (ABC4) – A Tooele firefighter was heading home from fighting a California wildfire when he was involved in a rollover crash. Lucky to walk away from the accident, he’s sharing his experience and a reminder to drivers.
After a two-week assignment working as the task force leader on California’s Lava Fire, Dan Walton – who is also the Tooele Fire Warden – had made it about two hours outside of Mount Shasta, Calif. when his drive home took a turn.
“About 20 miles outside of Susanville…on a two-lane highway, I had a car come right into my lane, just a distracted driver,” Walton said.
To avoid getting hit, Walton said he moved over, but at the last second, so did the other driver. And that’s when he said his truck (carrying 250 gallons of water) fishtailed multiple times.
“My truck just started fishtailing, and in that moment, I had to also juggle a turn in the road and about four other oncoming vehicles,” he said. “I was doing my best to stay out of everybody’s way and doing my best to stay on the pavement, and eventually my truck ended up backward and just rolled over the shoulder and landed right on the tires.”
Fortunately, Walton said he’s OK.
“I didn’t have anything impact me in the cab, I didn’t move, there’s no damage on the driver side where I was sitting, and I opened the door and got right out,” he said.
But after the crash, Walton said his first thoughts were of his family.
“How am I going to get home and see my wife and kids? That was my goal that day and I was going to make it home, it had been a really long tour,” said the firefighter of 10 years said.
In an area with no cell phone service, Walton said witnesses and a nearby California fire agency, were able to get him the help he needed.
“I had a forest service crew and a service crew show up, help me out. They got the word out that there had been an accident; and of course, that triggers up the chain of the wildfire command.”
About three hours after the crash, Walton said he was able to get a ride to Susanville, where he had cell service and could call his family and supervisors to let them know he was OK.
Friday, Walton arrived home to Tooele safely, where local first responders, along with his family, awaited his arrival.
“When I got back into town, everybody gave me a really great homecoming; everybody was lined out on the highway, giving me waves,” he said. “It was amazing…to see them take a few moments away from their family to come welcome me home was really touching.”
With fire crews putting hundreds of thousands of miles on their trucks, Walton said traveling to and from wildfires is another danger that comes with the job.
“It’s no secret if you look at the national statistics, what hurts, what kills the most firefighters, it’s that travel to and from; it’s always those motor vehicle accidents,” he said.
A 2019 report conducted by multiple U.S. government agencies lists vehicle crashes as the second leading cause of death among firefighters.
Over the course of 10 years (2010-2019) data from the report finds 107 firefighters have died in vehicle collisions, including aircraft.
Of the wildland trucks owned by the Utah Department of Natural Resources, Walton said six trucks have been in accidents this year.
“It’s just kind of that odd year where we’re putting a lot of miles on,” Walton said. “Personally, in my career, I’ve driven tens of thousands of miles and this is my first accident.”
When behind the wheel, Walton reminds everyone to be alert.
“Just watch out for other people – you never know how your actions could impact somebody else,” he said.
Tuesday morning, Walton cleaned out his truck before it was towed away to find out what happens next.