NOTE: This story has been updated to include details about the vehicles involved in the accident.
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A three-car accident on Sugar Street last week resulted in damage to three cars, and injuries to at least one driver. Well intentioned passersby could have made things worse had a vehicle they pushed from its side onto its tires fallen on any of them, or created additional injuries for its occupant.
Newtown Police, Hook & Ladder and Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps were dispatched to the area of Sugar Street and Baldwin Drive around 5 pm Thursday, January 30, on a report of a three-car accident. Hook & Ladder Chief Ray Corbo served as the officer in command of the incident.
"This was dispatched as a three-car [accident] with injuries," Chief Corbo said. "When we got there, I found one guy was in a vehicle that needed a door pop. His vehicle was closer to West Street, while the other two were near the intersection of Sugar Street and Madison."
In fact, the chief soon learned, the silver four-door sedan that was on the front lawn of a Sugar Street residence was initially on its side after the accident occured.
According to a police report, the accident involved a 1997 Mitsubishi Mirage coupe, a 2011 Volvo XC-60 sedan and a 2000 Ford Focus sedan. The Mitsubishi and the Volvo were the ones at the corner of Sugar and Madison; the Ford was the vehicle that stopped about 300 feet southwest, in the front yard of 36 Sugar Street.
"They were pretty spread out," said Chief Corbo.
While speaking with an EMT who was also on the scene, Chief Corbo learned that most of those involved in the accident were reporting very minor, if any, injuries.
"I saw someone still sitting [in the silver car] and the passenger side was heavily damaged. He said he wasn't hurt, but he couldn't get out," said Chief Corbo. "At that point I upgraded this to an extrication assignment, which in turn brings in another company."
While Sandy Hook and Dodgingtown fire companies were being dispatched, the driver of the silver vehicle said something disconcerting.
"At that point he told me that his vehicle had been on its side, and two or three guys had rolled it onto its wheels," said Chief Corbo.
The driver, according to Chief Corbo, had been wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident. He decided to take his seatbelt off, which caused him to fall toward the passenger compartment.
"At that point the people outside thought they needed to flip the car back down onto its wheels. They rocked the car back down onto its wheels with the gentleman still inside," said the chief, who was unclear whether it was two or three people who pushed the car over. The driver of the vehicle, he said, could not tell. The passersby had left the scene before firefighters arrived.
A car on its side, said Chief Corbo, is "historically the most unstable way a car could be."
A training guide by the National Fire Protection Association, an international advocate of fire prevention and a source on public safety, says in part: "If not controlled, unstable vehicles are serious threats to rescuers and to those injured in a motor vehicle collision. The shape, size, and resting positions of vehicles after a collision can create many challenges for rescuers. Proper vehicle stabilization provides a solid foundation from which to work, ensuring safety for the emergency personnel as well as the victims."
"During stabilization," the document continues, "responders should always be aware of the potential for vehicles to shift."
The first thing a firefighter will do upon arriving on the scene of an accident where a vehicle has landed on its side, or even its roof, is stabilize that vehicle.
"Before a firefighter would do anything else to the car, or the patient, we would stabilize it," said Chief Corbo. "Under no circumstances do you do anything else. You could cause way more injuries [by working with an unstable vehicle] than the actual crash itself."
In the process of rocking the car, "it could have fallen on them," the chief said of the civilians who were on the scene before firefighters arrived Thursday night. "That, and the patient's gonna get tossed around inside the car now, and risk more injury."
Hook & Ladder firefighters would have stabilized the vehicle, Chief Corbo said. "That's before you treat the patient, before anyone gets in the car. The only touching of the car we would do would be to stabilize it."
Non-emergency personnel should never approach a vehicle that is on its side or roof.
"Maybe if it's on fire, that would be the only time someone might get close to it," said Chief Corbo. "If I wasn't in the industry myself, I might even do that," he added. In addition to being chief of the volunteer Hook & Ladder company, Corbo is a Lieutenant with Waterbury Fire Department.
"Even that really depends," he added. "If there aren't any firefighters on the scene, [bystanders] might be able to help. If they're there by themselves and the car's on fire, and the fire department isn't going to get there fast enough, it might be time to take some sort of action, like with an extinguisher before it turns into a larger fire."
Hook & Ladder firefighters were able to extricate the driver from his vehicle by performing a "door pop." Sandy Hook firefighters ended up responding to Hook & Ladder's station to provide standby service, while Dodgingtown remained in quarters during the incident.
The driver of the Focus was treated for injuries, as was the driver of the Volvo involved in the accident. The third driver was uninjured.
Those who rolled the sedan onto its wheels last week were also uninjured.
Nevertheless, while the passersby may have had good intentions, what they did was "a bad idea," said Chief Corbo. "Someone untrained, that's a potential for more victims to have to deal with."