Visibility a factor in blaze collision

Tim EdmundsAlbany Advertiser
Leon and Jen Whittle.
Camera IconLeon and Jen Whittle. Credit: Laurie Benson/Pictures: Laurie Benson, Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

The son of a volunteer firefighter has emotionally recalled the moment he thought his father would die after a prime mover collided with his fire truck while fighting a blaze in Manypeaks two years ago.

Tim Metcalfe was fighting the fire with father Richard Metcalfe on May 13, 2016, when a truck driven by Leon Darryl Whittle collided with the stationary fire truck which was parked on the side of Pfieffer Road.

Mr Whittle is standing trial in the Albany District Court facing a charge of dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm to Mr Metcalfe in the crash, in which both drivers sustained injuries.

On the second day of the expected eight-day trial on Tuesday, Tim Metcalfe described it as “milliseconds” before seeing the prime mover because of the thick smoke before it collided with the fire truck, throwing his father to the other side of the road.

He thought Mr Whittle was dead, believing he had been thrown from his cab after the prime mover had buckled into the bush and the fire truck had been flipped across the road.

Tim and Richard Metcalfe.
Camera IconTim and Richard Metcalfe. Credit: Laurie Benson/Albany Advertiser, Laurie Benson Albany Advertiser

Mr Metcalfe told the court Mr Whittle murmured his mobile phone passcode to him to try and call triple-0 but he was in a mobile black spot.

When a backup fire truck driven by volunteer firefighter David Pyle arrived, Mr Metcalfe used his UHF radio to call for help. “I then ran back over to Dad because if he died I wanted to be there,” he said.

Mr Metcalfe suffered bleeding on the brain, three pelvis fractures, a broken leg and two eye socket fractures after being thrown from the fire truck at the collision.

The experienced volunteer firefighter spent two weeks in the trauma ward of Royal Perth Hospital and a further five weeks recovering in Fiona Stanley Hospital.

Tim Metcalfe described the fire as about 100m in length down the road and visibility as “terrible” because of the 80m of smoke from the fire, which escaped from a private burn and had began jumping across Pfeiffer Road on the Metcalfes’ property.

With his dad driving, he began extinguishing spot fires which had jumped across the road before the truck was parked on the side of the road. Richard Metcalfe was beginning to get out the truck with the intention of unsnagging the hose when the collision occurred

“I turned around and saw a prime mover flying out of the smoke and smashing into the back of the firetruck,” Tim Metcalfe said in evidence.

“Dad flew out of the truck and landed on the bitumen.”

Giving evidence earlier in the day, Richard Metcalfe said his memory of the crash had improved “marginally” and he remembered not being able to park the truck completely off the road because of a steep embankment, and visibility was “zero”.

In cross-examination, defence lawyer Gary Massey questioned why, if visibility was so poor because of the smoke, City of Albany bushfire brigade procedure was not followed and traffic management plans put in place to warn motorists.

Mr Metcalfe admitted no traffic management had been put in place yet, he was not wearing a helmet and there was no incident controller because they were still assessing the fire after being at the scene less than 15 minutes.

Fellow firefighter John Howard, who also saw the crash, told the jury the prime mover appeared “all of a sudden”.

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