The big gong slammed the sides of the brass bell as it rocked back and forth in its cradle. The message “wasn’t” that it was lunch time. This was a fire message and the firefighters heard it.
Two of the responders were Fred Brodbeck and Raymond Miller – fire chief and driver. Their means of travel was a Mitchell car with a custom rear bed that carried firefighting equipment. This was a custom addition designed by the chief.
They raced down Ohio Street and just as they were approaching the Iron Street Bridge a horse and buggy pulled onto the street. Miller swerved but the car caught the rear of the buggy and launched the car down the banks of the Smoky Hill River.
Brodbeck was seriously injured in the accident and was taken to the hospital. But, this was well before we knew how to treat infection. Gangrene set in and the chief died five days later at the age of 39.
Brodbeck came to Salina, Kansas from Chicago. The local press chronicled the innovative things he implemented. Many of them were successful, but unfortunately one was the Mitchell modification.
Those of us in wild land firefighting have to be master innovators too. Standard trucks are converted into fire trucks. Military trucks are converted into fire trucks. All terrain vehicles are converted into fire trucks.
Most of our changes are good, but are there possibly some Mitchell modifications? Before you make modifications to a truck ask yourself some questions.
Have you exceeded the vehicle’s weight capacity? Turning ability could be adversely affected. Braking could be adversely affected. Rollover potential could be heightened.
Are undercarriage components heat resistant? Plastic brake lines could melt from heat. Fuel lines could do the same. This could happen at the most inopportune time, possibly endangering the lives of firefighters.
Have you designed rear-riding locations properly? Hand rails must be present and must be adequate. Some type of belting system needs to be present. Sharp cornered impact points should be eliminated or covered.
Are you changing a key operational component? You should not change the size of a truck’s tires without getting a stamp of approval from the manufacturer. Too small of tires might cause a heat build-up on brake pads.
Let a picture of the Brodbeck accident be your visual reminder. Prepare a list of safety questions before making any truck modifications. A good name for it might be The Mitchell Questionnaire.