Editorial: Gratitude meets disappointment after last week’s tanker rollover near Hayden
Last Friday’s tanker rollover just east of Hayden — which closed U.S. Highway 40 between Hayden and Steamboat Springs for about eight hours — left us tottering in the midst of a strange goulash of feelings.
Foremost, we felt a renewed sense gratitude, first, that the resulting jet fuel spill wasn’t any worse than it was and that no one was seriously injured as a result; and second, that we have such a dedicated contingent of emergency personnel, who respond quickly, selflessly and efficiently to such potential disasters.
But, at the same time, we also felt anger, disappointment and incredulity that we also have those among us who, through selfishness and irresponsibility, make the jobs of our local heroes so much more dangerous and difficult.
The situation initially arose about 3 p.m. last Friday, when a Utah-based truck driver, employed by Savage Sweets, Inc., misjudged the turn from U.S. 40 onto Routt County Road 51A, ultimately rolling his semi rig onto its side and spilling between 80 and 100 gallons of jet fuel into a culvert beneath the highway.
This brings us to our first reaction: gratitude.
The truck contained about 6,700 gallons of fuel, and it was the quick, decisive actions of first responders from Colorado State Patrol and Craig Fire/Rescue’s hazardous materials team — who plugged the leak with wax rings and set up dykes at the end of the culvert — that prevented a bad situation from deteriorating into a minor disaster.
This is no surprise to us. Our emergency responders here in Northwest Colorado place their safety — and sometimes, their very lives — on the line every day to protect the lives and property of residents and visitors, alike, and — perhaps due to their steadfast reliability — it’s sometimes easy to take their work for granted.
These men and women take enormous risks through the course of performing their jobs, and they certainly don’t do it for fame and fortune. Most go about their work anonymously, never seeking the limelight, and most are not paid nearly enough for their vital contributions.
So, we take this opportunity to gratefully salute the men and women of Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Department of Transportation, West Routt Fire Protection District, Routt County Sheriff’s Office, Hayden Police Department and Craig Fire/Rescue.
All these agencies responded quickly to the scene last Friday, and if not for their work, the situation would have been much, much worse.
And, though they did not participate in Friday’s incident, we would be remiss if we failed to also express our heartfelt thanks to the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office, the Craig Police Department and our numerous rural fire departments.
But the aftermath of the tanker crash was not all laudable, hence, our accompanying anger and disappointment.
About an hour after the crash, as emergency workers were in the thick of containing the leak, a driver ignored the roadblock and continued eastbound toward the crash site, striking the vehicle of Hayden Police Chief Greg Tuliszewski in the process.
The driver stopped before reaching the scene, and CSP troopers determined he was driving under the influence of alcohol.
Several hours later, with crews still on-scene, a second vehicle drove into the area from the eastern side, striking a CDOT truck that was being used for traffic control.
Again, the driver was found to have been operating his vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Both drivers were arrested on suspicion of DUI, among other offenses.
This was a dangerous situation, one made even more dangerous by two thoughtless drivers who decided that drinking and driving, then rolling through a road closure, were great ideas.
We’re thankful no one was injured or killed by these irresponsible motorists, but that bit of serendipity in no way mitigates the monumental foolishness of their actions.
Again, the men and women who respond to emergency situation are placing their lives on the line to keep us safe, and the last thing they need is people complicating that job through sheer stupidity.
That said, we implore you: First, please don’t drive if you plan to drink, and don’t drink if you plan to drive. When you mix alcohol with gasoline, you’re not only playing Russian Roulette with your own life, but also with the lives of anyone unlucky enough to cross your path.
Second, please move over for emergency vehicles, and observe all roadblocks and detours. Emergency workers are working to protect our safety, so we, in turn, should give them room to do that work.
And finally, please don’t get too comfortable with your regular routes. Familiarity breeds carelessness, and disaster can strike in the whisper of a second.
Again, we’re grateful to our emergency workers, but we, too, have a role to play in ensuring our own safety and the safety of our friends and neighbors.
Let’s not shirk that role.