‘We could have lost everything’ Quick thinking saves county’s fleet after truck catches fire in building

Published 8:31 am Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A fire Sunday afternoon destroyed a county truck used for snow removal, but it could have been worse.

“We could have lost everything,” said Allan Curtis, superintendent of the Clark County Road Department.

Curtis said firefighters were able to save nine other trucks as well as the building, which sustained only minor damage.

Winchester Fire-EMS Battalion Chief Chris Whiteley said every vehicle the county has to plow snow from county roads and spread salt was in that building.

Whiteley said Road Department employees themselves did good job of getting the trucks out of the building once the fire was extinguished, including using a trackhoe to remove the burned dump truck.

The Clark County Fire Department provided mutual aid.

Curtis said it was county firefighters who first noticed the smoke and called 911, and everybody responded.

The fire happened about 1:30 p.m. in Building 8 of the Road Department property at 5 Hopkins Lane off East Broadway. Curtis said firefighters “did a very impressive job,” and the fire was contained to the one truck, although the others had some smoke damage. Curtis said the fire melted some skylights in the building and did some damage to the ceiling, but nothing major.

The battalion chief said an investigation indicated the fire started in the truck’s cab and spread to the engine compartment, but the cause is still officially “unknown.”

Curtis said the county already has two new dump trucks on order that were supposed to have been delivered in January or February, but he hasn’t seen them yet. He said Monday he was going to call about them that day.

It sometimes takes a year or more to get “specialized equipment” like a county road crew truck, he said.

“You can’t just go to Paul Miller and say, ‘I’ll take that one,’” he said.

He said the truck was an old one. It might be worth $15,000 “on its best day,” but it could cost $150,000 to replace it.

Curtis said he has contacted county’s insurer, the Kentucky Association of Counties about the incident.

The county totaled another truck in January, and last week’s ice storm and heavy snowfall resulted in damage to other trucks, mostly from fallen tree limbs.

“With this ice storm, we tore off mirrors, lights, you name it. We had to cut our way through a lot of these roads,” he said. “It was a lot of superficial damage — pieces and parts.”

But some of those parts can be expensive. A mirror, he said, might cost hundreds of dollars.

“It’s been a pretty rough winter on us,” Curtis said.

“I’m glad to see this warm weather,” he said Monday, but the road crew’s winter storm work is far from finished. “Today it’s going to be a lot of tree cleanup and ditch work and things of that nature.”

Monday morning, Clark County Public Schools reopened classrooms to in-person learning, and school buses were running the roads. Curtis said he got a call Sunday night about road conditions.

“I told them we wouldn’t be any issue on county roads,” he said. “I said they can drive around and make their own call, but we’ve done everything in the county that we can do.”