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Sevier Co. Sheriff's Department re-evaluating safety equipment in light of deadly crash

8:15 PM, Sep 17, 2012   |    comments
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As the Tennessee Highway Patrol continues to investigate a deadly, fiery crash in Sevier County involving a church van and an SUV that killed two people on Sunday morning, 10News is learning more about emergency response to the scene.

As a result of the accident, the Sevier County Sheriff's Department is re-evaluating the safety equipment they carry, even though the investigation has not revealed fire extinguishers could have changed the outcome of the accident.

"After everything that's been done, that can be done, you know, then you take a self-assessment and realize what you've just seen and experienced, or tried to help," said Sevier County Sheriff's Department Captain Mike Hodges.

Sevier County 911 dispatch records show that the Sevier County Sheriffs Department was the first to arrive on scene. Five deputies showed up within seven minutes after the wife of victim, Jeff Trussell, called for help at 9:26 a.m. A sheriff's report shows she was in a car in front of the church van and saw the accident and its aftermath.

Firefighters from Sevier County and Seymour Volunteer Fire Departments arrived on scene about seven minutes later.

Capt. Hodges told 10News that passers-by had used three fire extinguishers on the van before his deputies arrived on scene, but those didn't help. When sheriff's deputies got there, they tried to extinguish the fire with bottled water because they do not carry extinguishers in their patrol cars. That wasn't enough either.

"We don't have a policy, per se, that talks about fire extinguishers in our cruisers, in our police cars. It's also an officer discretion type thing. If an officer wanted to have one in the car they're more than welcome to carry one in that vehicle." Hodges said.

Hodges said there is no evidence to suggest that five more fire extinguishers would have allowed his deputies to save Trussell, and passenger 16-year old Courteney Kaliszewski. Hodges calls this the worst crash Sevier County emergency responders have seen in years.

Hodges said the sheriff's department discussed the crash response and the fire extinguisher issue at their staff meeting on Monday; Sheriff Ron Seals is now looking in to installing that equipment in all of the department's patrol cars.

"Is it something we provide? At this time, no it is not. Is it something we are looking in to? Yes, absolutely," Hodges said.

10News checked into the rules for fire extinguishers in patrol cars. There is no federal or state law that mandates it, although several states do have those laws. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety, policies about installing fire extinguishers in patrol cars is up to each individual agency.

Here are some of the law enforcement organizations in East Tennessee that currently carry fire extinguishers in patrol cars:

-Knoxville Police Department; since 1990

-Knox County Sheriff's Office; for the past 25 years

-Blount and Anderson County Sheriff's deputies; 10 plus years

-THP; all marked cars since 1999.

Captain Hodges said there is no firm timeline for a decision on adding fire extinguishers to Sevier County Sheriff's patrol cars.

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