Report: Campbellsville firefighter made direct contact with high-voltage line in fatal accident

Firefighter Tony Grider died of his injuries.
Firefighter Tony Grider died of his injuries.

A firefighter who died after being jolted with electricity from a high-voltage line in Campbellsville made direct contact with the line, according to a report released Wednesday by the Kentucky Public Service Commission.

Tony Grider, a captain with the Campbellsville fire department, was critically burned and died on Sept. 20, nearly a month after the accident.

Grider, 41, and firefighter Alex Quinn, 22, were in the raised bucket of an aerial ladder truck at Campbellsville University on Aug. 21 to spray water on students as part of an event to raise research money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The bucket was near a 69,000-volt transmission line that was 40 feet above the ground, according to a report Kentucky Utilities filed with the PSC.

The bucket was 20 to 25 feet off the ground and extended at a right angle to the fire truck parked at an intersection on campus, the report said.

Firefighters Steve Marrs and Alex Johnson were on the ground near the truck.

Marrs and Johnson told investigators the firefighters had discussed the presence of the power lines nearby and the need to keep clear of them.​

After the charity event was over, one of the firefighters using controls in the bucket began retracting the ladder, but for an “unknown reason” raised the bucket toward the line, according to information in the report.

Witness Kyle Davis, safety director at the university, told KU investigators he saw the bucket rising as the ladder telescoped.

Davis said he saw Grider’s head make direct contact with the high-voltage line.

Grider was looking down at the time, said Davis, who felt “the percussion wave and the heat from the blast.”

Johnson, one of the firefighters on the ground, said he was working to get the truck ready to return to the station when he saw a flash and felt a pain in his legs and back.

When he regained his senses, he saw Quinn – who had knelt down in the basket to help Grider – stand up and make contact with the line, causing a second flash.

Grider then stood up, but seemed disoriented and touched the line with his head again, causing a third flash, Johnson told the KU investigators.Davis said Johnson screamed over the radio for dispatchers to send help.

Johnson and Marrs were able to lower the bucket using controls on the truck and begin helping Grider and Quinn.

Quinn was seriously injured, but survived. Marrs and Johnson also sustained minor injuries.

The day of the accident, local authorities said electricity had arced from the high-energy line to the bucket of the ladder truck, but that the bucket did not touch the line.

Davis said there was not an arc.

Davis told investigators there had been some discussion of parking the fire truck at another spot, but there was a concern about the water making a field muddy.

KU was required to file a report with the PSC because of the accident.

The PSC reviewed the report and found that the line met all safety standards, according to a news release.

In a letter to KU, the PSC strongly recommended that KU and other electric utilities work closely with local fire departments to review safety practices applying in cases where aerial trucks are operated close to power lines.

An investigation of the accident by the state occupational safety and health program continues, said spokesman Daniel Lowry.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader