Friday, July 30, 2010

Remembering falling heros and coping with the "what if"

Thousands of people came with heavy hearts to remember and honor two of Rocky Mount's finest on Thursday, July 29, 2010.  For those of us that have not heard this story, Rocky Mount, VA Fire Chief Posey Dillion and Firefighter William "Danny" Altice were responding to a call on Tuesday, July 27th.  As they crossed an intersection, one that they both had crossed hundreds if not thousands of times over the course of their lives, their Fire Engine struck an SUV, rolled over three times before coming to rest on another car.  When it was all over, both Dillon and Altice were dead.  The SUV their Fire Engine struck, had a green light. 

As tragic as this event is, the most tragic aspect of this whole story is that this could have been a preventable accident if it were not for the tough economic times that communities across this country are facing today.  A traffic system called Opticom, mounted along with the Stop Lights at intersections that is activated to give emergency vehicles the right of way as they approach, was not present at the intersection where the accident occurred.  In fact, none of the intersections in the small town of Rocky Mount have this system. 

Rocky Mount is like many small communities across America, facing tight budgets because of falling property and sales tax revenue.  According to reports, the Opticom system or something like it, would have cost around $100,000 to install at all the intersections with traffic lights in town.  That is about 1/4 of the town's road maintenance budget.  The town council decided against purchasing this type of system, for the time being.  The whole irony of this story is that Posey Dillon was also the Vice Mayor of Rocky Mount and probably voted on this very budget item. 

Both Dillion and Altice were integral parts of this community, many of whom are still in shock and moving through emotions of anger and disbelief.  Also feelings of holding someone accountable for this tragedy.  But again, the SUV had a green light and no one knows if the driver could even hear siren or see the emergency lights to take appropriate action and not proceed through the intersection. 

So, what has this tragedy cost the Town of Rocky Mount?  For starters two incredible citizens with a combined 70 years of First Responder experience.  A Fire Engine, which cost as much as $299,999.00 for a 2010 International 7400 1250/1200/24 or as little as $24,500.00 for a 1991 Pierce Plumper 1000/1000.  (The Town of Rocky Mount has a Volunteer Fire Department, so they will either have to raise the money to purchase a replacement or have it donated.) 

But, the toughest cost to bear is the second guessing of that vote to not invest the $100,000 into a system like Opticom that likely, probably, could have, prevented this tragedy.  At this point, it is futile to try and place blame.  We all make decisions everyday and have to live with the results.  What's important is the lesson learned so we can make better choices as we continue to live our lives. 

Both Posey Dillion and William "Danny" Altice will be laid to rest today 

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  1. A person close to me went to High School with Posey Dillon and was a roommate with his wife in college. Very, very tragic.