The Virginia Department of Transportation announced on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015 that new fire trucks were bought to help enhance safety at the East River and Big Walker Mountain Tunnels. Two trucks were purchased to be used as preliminary response vehicles until local fire and rescue can arrive. VDOT partners with Transportation Operation and Management LLC out of Tazewell, VA to staff the tunnels. Officials with VDOT said that a tractor-trailer fire in the East River Mountain Tunnel in 2014 was not the reason for adding the trucks, but it did assure them of the need.
Efforts to buy the trucks began in 2013 and wrapped up in June. On each tunnel shift, there are four employees who are trained to use fire equipment. Each will receive regular training to ensure their skills are current.
Both tunnels had in-house fire pumpers until the middle of the 1990s. Those departments were removed because of more stringent training standards and the increased costs to train personnel as well as operating and maintaining the equipment. Since that time, local fire departments have been the primary first responders for emergencies in the tunnels.
“Local fire and rescue teams are of great value, but having the ability to respond right at the tunnel to fires when they occur greatly enhances safety,” said East River and Big Walker Tunnel manager, Leon Groseclose.
The Big Walker Mountain Tunnel has been open to traffic since 1972. The East River Mountain Tunnel opened in 1974. According to a release from VDOT, around 30,000 vehicles pass through the tunnel every day.