Two firefighters seriously injured during ice bucket challenge at Campbellsville University

bestep@herald-leader.comAugust 21, 2014 

CAMPBELLSVILLE — Two Campbellsville firefighters were badly injured Thursday when electricity arced from a high-voltage line to the bucket of an aerial ladder truck the two were using in a student fundraising event at Campbellsville University.

Capt. Tony Grider, 41, and Simon A. Quinn, 22, were airlifted to the burn unit at the University of Louisville Medical Center. Grider was listed in critical condition Thursday night, while Quinn was in fair condition.

Two other firefighters, Capt. Steve Marrs, 37, and Alex Johnson, 28, were shocked in the incident but were not seriously hurt. They were released after treatment at the hospital in Campbellsville, according to a release from the city.

The incident happened about 11:40 a.m.

The four firefighters had taken a ladder truck to the university, across the street from the fire station, to take part in an Ice Bucket Challenge. In the challenge, people agree to be doused with cold water to raise research money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

The university band was putting on the fundraiser. The truck was parked on a street on campus near an area of student housing, Campbellsville police Chief Tim Hazlette said.

Grider and Quinn sprayed water from the raised bucket of the ladder truck. After the event ended, the two firefighters were lowering the bucket when it apparently came within the threshold of electricity surrounding a high-power line, Hazlette said.

There is an area around such lines where electricity can arc to an object, said Allen Johnson, former chief of the Campbellsville fire department and the father of Alex Johnson, one of those who was injured.

"That voltage will jump feet. Not inches — feet," Allen Johnson said. He said he understood the power line involved carried 69,000 volts.

Electricity arced from the line to the bucket, shocking and burning the men, Hazlette said. The bucket did not touch the line, he said.

Marrs and Alex Johnson took control of the ladder from below and were shocked as well, but were able to lower the bucket and help Grider and Quinn, Hazlette said. No students were hurt.

It's not unusual for firefighters to help with community service events, Allen Johnson said.

"The job that we do is dangerous," he said. "I hope it never happens, nowhere, to a firefighter again."

Campbellsville Mayor Tony Young said all four hurt in the accident are dedicated firefighters. Grider, a 16-year veteran of the department, and Marrs, an 11-year veteran, also serve as paramedics, he said. Quinn is a part-time firefighter, while Johnson, also an emergency medical technician, had been employed with the department for three years, according to a news release.

"We express heartfelt sympathy and prayers for the families of the two firefighters who were injured," Campbellsville University President Michael V. Carter said in a statement. Several hundred people attended a prayer service on campus at 7 p.m.

Taylor County Judge-Executive Eddie Rogers said the accident knocked out power in parts of Taylor County and in neighboring Green County as well: "It knocked out transformers all the way to Greensburg."

About 4,700 Kentucky Utilities customers lost power in Campbellsville and Greensburg; power to those customers was restored just before 1 p.m., KU spokesman Cliff Feltham said. He said KU officials were investigating. Customers supplied by rural electrical cooperatives in Taylor and Green counties also were affected by the outages.

Many land-line phones on the university campus still weren't working properly Thursday afternoon.

ALS, a progressive, fatal neurodegenerative disease, gradually destroys a person's muscle control. There is no cure.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has become a social-media sensation as millions of people have volunteered to have ice water dumped on them and have pledged donations to the cause.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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