Residents await new bridge after collapse: Fire chief says 19-ton vehicle necessary on medical calls

Photo Elliott Burr/Town Crier

The weight of a fire engine collapsed a private bridge leading to approxi-mately 12 cottages near Loyola Corners last week.

A fire engine dispatched from the Loyola Station in response to a medical emergency April 4 needed rescuing after a bridge over Permanente Creek collapsed under the vehicle’s weight. While the crew escaped unharmed and successfully answered the 911 call, the engine stayed behind.

Approximately three-quarters of the way across the private wooden bridge, support snapped and the nearly 20-ton truck was caught between the banks of the creek. The accident, near the intersection of Miramonte Avenue and Aura Way, left approximately 12 cottages beyond the bridge temporarily without vehicle access.

City planner David Kornfield said he spoke with the property owner, Sal Giovannotto of Palo Alto-based Vittoria Management, who may be able to install a temporary bridge soon. Calls to Vittoria went unreturned as of the Town Crier’s Monday deadline, but Kornfield said the property owner had opened a resident’s backyard for pedestrian access to Holly Avenue April 4.

Toni Thompson, a resident in the 2.5-acre compound, said by Thursday residents were able to drive their cars out through the opened backyard.

According to Assistant City Manager James Walgren, Los Altos won’t be involved in the repairs because the bridge is private, but the city must approve its reconstruction.

Ken Waldvogel, Santa Clara County fire chief, said the engine weighs close to 19 tons. Los Altos issued a permit for the bridge Sept. 26, 1979, which states the structure could absorb 18 tons. Waldvogel said engines 30 years ago weighed approximately 2 tons less than today’s.

Battalion Chief Joe Parker said similar fire vehicles had crossed the bridge several times before without incident.

Waldvogel said last week he didn’t know the cause of the collapse, but the department investigation is ongoing.

Why the big engine?

Medical emergencies comprise approximately 80 percent of firefighters’ calls in Los Altos, according to Waldvogel, and while some residents and city officials have questioned the need for the nearly 40,000-pound fire engines on those calls, the fire department said they’re necessary.

When asked if crews could take smaller vehicles to medical calls, Waldvogel said, “Say we take resources out on a medical call, clear the call and then go to a vehicle fire or accident. The resources we need are significantly different. Otherwise we’d be hightailing it back to the station to pull all the equipment off, and our response times would go up dramatically.”

J. Logan, assistant city manager for Los Altos, said people are often puzzled when the big vehicles arrive at medical-related emergencies.

“Every citizen who sees a fire engine raring down the street with the lights is going to ask, ‘Why is the fire engine responding? This is medical,’” she said.

The California Fire Code states that signs indicating weight capacity must be posted on bridges and elevated surfaces, but Richard Feldman, who lives in the affected complex, said there was no sign on this particular bridge.

“I can attest that there has not been a weight-limit sign up in the last nine years,” he said.

Waldvogel said the crew acted appropriately in driving across the bridge.

“(The crew) was not doing anything outside policy,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened. … My biggest (relief) is that no one was injured.”

As for the engine, which was purchased last year, Waldvogel said as of Thursday it was in Oakdale for inspection and repair while the station uses one of its eight replacements.

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