Firefighting vehicles cannot reach parts of Loudoun without violating weight limits posted on bridges, and other areas could see firefighters having to take longer alternative routes, the Combined Rescue Service has warned. and Loudoun County Fire Department.
The issue arose after a Loudoun County deputy stopped a Philomont tanker. According to an Aug. 24 memo to the board of supervisors, the tanker – one of the heaviest types of fire apparatus – was heading south along Snickersville Turnpike toward the Hibbs Bridge over Beaverdam Creek. on June 24 when a deputy reported it and warned the crew. on the weight limit of the bridge posts.
This bridge, a double-arch stone bridge first built in the early 1800s and rehabilitated in 2007, has a posted weight limit of six tons. The tank truck weighs about 29 tons, according to Loudoun Fire-Rescue.
This led to Fire and Rescue System Chief Keith Johnson issuing a directive to responders that they must adhere to the bridge’s posted boundaries. According to the memo to supervisors, during follow-up discussions, the sheriff’s office said it had not issued any guidance to “begin enforcing” bridge weight limits on Loudoun fire and rescue vehicles. .
The incident also led system leaders to assess weight restrictions on all state-owned bridges in Loudoun County, find 41 total bridges, and evaluate simulated response times with those bridges closed.
“This has been our top priority over the past few weeks since we became aware of some recent issues,” Johnson told county supervisors at their Sept. 6 meeting. He said the vehicles in the system weigh between around 8 tonnes for an ambulance and 36 tonnes for an aerial ladder.
They found that while ambulances can reach all parts of the county, fire trucks, tankers and ladder trucks cannot reach 11 addresses on Dutchmans Creek Road, 11 addresses on Aldie Dam Road and six addresses on Greengarden Road and Sunken Lane. For 96 other addresses, fire trucks can reach, but not heavier tankers and ladder trucks. And in many others, although fire-fighting vehicles can get there, to avoid the weight limits of the bridge, they have to take longer alternate routes.
This work, in conjunction with the County Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, is ongoing. They are asking the Virginia Department of Transportation for exemptions to bridge weight limits, while continuing to gather information to provide county supervisors and seeking other short-term solutions.
State law allows a weight limit exception for emergency vehicles, but requires an engineering survey of the bridge and an annual permit for each emergency vehicle that may cross the bridge. County fire rescue vehicles are sometimes called upon to travel away from their first-due area to help other stations respond to larger emergencies, or to fill in if a call comes in while the nearest station is already busy responding to another.
The county’s Department of Transportation is already working to hire engineers to analyze bridges for possible exemptions, Johnson said. He also said county staff members are meeting with VDOT staff this week. And county fire and transportation personnel are working with the county public information office to keep affected residents informed.
Loudoun Fire and Rescue vehicles resumed use of the Hibbs Bridge. The Virginia Department of Transportation provided documentation indicating the bridge is built to “full load capacity,” which fire personnel interpreted to mean 80,000 pounds, the maximum allowable weight for vehicles traveling on Virginia roads. Virginia. Although the state has issued no weight limit exemptions for emergency vehicles on the Hibbs Bridge, with the bridge along a major road to reach addresses between Philomont and Aldie and the apparent indication of the VDOT that the bridge can bear this weight, the fire rescue system has lifted its own ban on crossing the bridge.
The memo also notes that there are an unknown number of private bridges in Loudoun that could also be problematic and may not have been assessed by a structural engineer.
While Loudoun’s historic bridges have only aged, the firefighting vehicles have become much larger and heavier over the years, largely due to new safety and equipment requirements. equipment. It has also led to debates in some areas over whether fire departments should purchase smaller models already on the market. In 2018, the National Association of City Transportation Officials and the US Department of Transportation Volpe Center published a report on improvements in street safety through the use of smaller vehicles with similar capabilities, such as those used in Europe and in Asia, in urban environments.