Fire Truck Tragedy in Rocky Mount, Virginia: Fire Chief, Firefighter Killed

Posey Dillon (right) is pictured above with Danny Altice during a ceremony in February 2008 when Altice was presented a lifetime achievement award by the Rocky Mount Town Council. They were killed Tuesday afternoon in a collision with a car while responding to a call. Photo Courtesy Franklin News Post

Morris Stephenson | The Franklin News Post

Morris Stephenson | The Franklin News Post

Jared Soares | The Roanoke Times

Jared Soares | The Roanoke Times

By Amanda Codispoti, Jordan Fifer and Sheila Ellis | The Roanoke Times
Reprinted with Permission -- Updated 1:40p ET

SUV Had Green Light in Crash

The Franklin County Commonwealth's Attorney will review the police investigation of Monday's wreck that killed two Rocky Mount firefighters to determine whether anyone should be charged, a state police spokesman said.

The fire truck, driven by fire Chief Posey Dillon, was on Old Franklin Turnpike heading to a house fire with its emergency lights and siren on when it swerved to miss an SUV that had pulled into the intersection at School Board Road, police said. The SUV hit the fire engine on the driver's side. The fire truck flipped three times from the shifting weight of 1,000 gallons of water in its tank and landed on a Ford Mustang convertible, police said.

Dillon, 59, was dead on arrival at Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital. William Daniel Altice, 57, a Rocky Mount volunteer for decades, was dead at the scene. The men were the only ones on board the fire truck.

The driver of the SUV, Terry A. Valentine, 41, of Rocky Mount, was taken to the hospital with injuries that weren't life-threatening, police said.

The SUV had a green light when it pulled into the intersection, state police spokesman Sgt. Rob Carpentieri said today. Investigators hadn't determined whether the fire truck stopped or slowed as it approached the intersection, he said. The speed of the vehicles remained under investigation, said Carpentieri.

Rocky Mount Chief, Firefighter Die In Crash
ROCKY MOUNT - Two longtime Rocky Mount firefighters, including Chief Posey Dillon, were killed Monday and another person was hurt when a fire truck on its way to a house fire crashed into an SUV, flipped three times and landed on a car, state police said.

Dillon, 59, chief of the all-volunteer fire department for two decades and Rocky Mount's vice mayor, was dead on arrival at Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital after the 4:30 p.m. wreck on Old Franklin Turnpike near U.S. 220. Firefighter William Daniel Altice, 57, a Rocky Mount volunteer for decades, was dead at the scene. Neither wore seat belts, police said.

The driver of the SUV, Terry A. Valentine, 41, of Rocky Mount was taken to the hospital with injuries that weren't life-threatening, police said.

The fire engine, with its emergency lights and siren on, was heading to a report of a person trapped in a house fire in the Franklin County community of Union Hall, with just Dillon and Altice aboard. With Dillon at the wheel, the engine, eastbound on Old Franklin Turnpike, swerved when a silver Ford Escape drove into the street from School Board Road, said Sgt. Rob Carpentieri, a state police spokesman.

The truck, loaded with 1,000 gallons of water, was struck on the driver's side by the SUV, flipped from the shifting weight of the water and landed on a Ford Mustang convertible on its third roll, said state police Sgt. Michael Bailey. The Mustang driver, Carolyn Puckett, 47, of Bassett didn't appear hurt, police said.

"The fire truck driver overcorrected and it appears the weight of the load shifted," Carpentieri said.

No one was immediately charged in the wreck and accident investigators hadn't determined whether the traffic signal at the intersection was green for the fire truck or for the SUV, Carpentieri said.

"It was one hellacious noise," said Sean Perdue, owner of the nearby Franklin Outdoors store, who said he saw the tumbling truck. One of the firefighters was trapped beneath the wreckage, he said.

"I heard a great big crash and we came outside," said Christy McKinney, 35, of Rocky Mount, an employee of nearby Mattress Depot, who heard the truck's blaring siren before the impact.

Emergency workers, people from nearby shops and Franklin County residents were drawn to the scene by the noise and by the swift-moving news that there had been casualties.

"They're out here to support the firefighters and to support our community," said Lorena Garcia, 19, of Ferrum, surveying the more than three dozen people clustered in three groups near the wreckage. "We'll probably be out here until everything is cleared out. It's hurting a lot of people."

Her boyfriend, Lee Yount, 20, a Ferrum firefighter, heard the original fire alarm dispatch on his fire radio. Then he heard the call for the wreck.

"It's like going to the scene of a family member that's been hurt," Yount said. "That's how close we are."

Dillon and Altice are believed to be the first Rocky Mount firefighters killed in the line of duty in the department's 97-year history.

"All of us in the community share in the grief at losing these two dedicated volunteer public servants, and give our condolences and sympathies to their families," Rocky Mount's assistant town manager, Matt Hankins, said on the town's Facebook page Monday night.

Franklin County Fire Marshal Bennie Russell said the truck was responding to a call for a person trapped in a house fire. Other fire companies subdued the blaze and found the person safely away from the fire, Bailey said.

Rocky Mount's truck, a 1989 Pierce engine with a 1,000-gallon water tank, can be "top-heavy" in emergency maneuvers, Russell said. Its tank contains baffles to keep the sloshing water from throwing the fire engine off balance, he said.

Dillon, who recently retired from Appalachian Power Co., grew up in Glade Hill. He had been associated with the fire department since 1977 and was chief for the past 20 years. He was appointed to Rocky Mount's town council in 2006 and elected to a full term in 2008. He also served on the council from 1980 to 2000.

"Chief was very easy to get along with," said Bedford firefighter John "Roc" Moore, who worked as a firefighter in Boones Mill for 10 years and would often run mutual aid calls alongside Dillon. "Hard-nosed. 'Let's go in and get the job done,' he'd say."

In 1995, Dillon tracked down Rocky Mount's first fire engine, a 1929 Seagrave Special, and helped the town buy it from a collector for $9,000. Dillon planned to restore the truck and open a small museum near the fire department.

"I could not believe that after all those years, everything came together like that in one day," said Dillon in 1997, recalling his tearful phone call in which he made the deal with the fire truck collector.

Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt said Dillon and Altice were "totally dedicated fire members."

"This is a great loss to the community and town," Hunt said. "They were pillars of the community."

The wreckage lay in Old Franklin Turnpike hours after the crash as state police accident reconstruction experts surveyed the scene. The SUV's front was smashed, its hood curled from the impact. The Mustang, its top down, was mangled on the driver's side.

"It's terrible. It's really, really bad," said Wanda Bailey, a manager at the nearby Sheetz convenience store. "Most of these firefighters come in here every day. It's kind of heartbreaking to us. We know them. They're basically like family."

Staff writer Janelle Rucker contributed to this report.


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My deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and fellow fire fighters of Chief Posey Dillon and William Daniel Altice.
Obviously didn't read the article before you had to spread your crap. It stated they were not.

Hold on there Steve. Nobody is spreading crap here and the comment/concern made by Lutan was in line regarding the story.

As for the story, majority of the comments over 8 hours old were from when this article first came out. At the time, the names were not released, nor any associated information regarding the seatbelts. You are attacking a person who made a comment prior to the updated news being released here.
Our prayers to all affected by this tragic and trully sad loss, of two great men. May God bless there families and friends.
They was not wearing thier seatbelts. Both men were ejected from the truck. This is from the reports i have heared.
I think the rig needs to be looked at forensically. Im sorry but I have seen a lot of flipped rigs, and I have never seen one flattened out. I have been in Pierce for years, and something went wrong there. Second of all, the water in the tank caused them to roll 3 times? Wouldn't proper ballasting have stopped that? Im not a Rig Engineer (by Engineer I mean mathematical designer), but something is awfully fishy about the rigs performance in this collision.
Unfortunately I don't believe they were. We all need to get better at this before a law comes down the road. However, I don't think that they would have helped as it looks like the rig did not hold up to the forces of the collision. I feel so bad for the members of their families. Especially as it obviously is a spectacle. They will have to hear the news bashing their loved ones for the way they were driving as the media always does when we have an incident. Truly a sad day in VA.
One of the local papers just reported the State Highway Patrol has determined the SUV had the green light. Our department, as do many across the nation, has a policy that states all emergency vehicles responding to a call will come to a complete stop prior to going through a stop sign or red light. No exceptions. If this agency had this policy in place we would not be mourning the loss of these gentlemen. Plain and simple, this was a preventable tragedy. Departments across the nation that do not currently have a stop policy should immediately implement one. Studies have shown response times are not impacted to a measurable degree. My condolences to the family and friends of these two men, but it was very fortunate that innocent people were not killed. Let's not let this kind of mistake happen again.

Rest in peace brothers... you and your families are in our prayers.


I have read a lot of hostility aimed at brother FFN members who are making comments about safety in light of this tragedy. I understand your feelings that the time to preach safety may be later on after the shock has worn off.

But as unplesant as it sounds when the pain is fresh, do we not have a professional DUTY to these fallen brothers to do everything we can to try and make sure that their deaths were not in vien?

Seriously, this past month has seen WAY too many firefighters die in vehicle incidents (FD and POV). What is it going to take for us (collectively and individually) to slow down, drive more carefully and buckle up? [I am NOT making any comments in regard to THIS tragic incident - just in general.]

Maybe a little sting in a fresh emotional wound is what we need? We have to do SOMETHING!

I am lucky (yes, lucky) that my wife is on the same department and when we respond in my POV, she ignores my 17 years of emergency driving experience and tells me to slow down. First time she did, I scoffed at her... then I remembered the lessons I learned from reading posts here on FFN and realized that I AM NOT IMMUNE TO THE SAME LAWS OF PHYSICS THAT CAUSED THE MVC THAT I AM RESPONDING TO!

So thanks to my guardian angel (aka: "my wife AND fellow firefighter") for reminding me to slow down and thanks to FFN discussions for opening my eyes to the danger.

Many departments use the motto "So others may live".
Let's honor these brothers by QUICKLY changing the way we do things so their legacy will be "so others may live!" because if we wait for the wounds to heal... it could already be too late for the next one.
My thoughts and parayers go out to the families and department.
I guess you know better than the experts. A seat belt would NOT have saved Lt. Kelley.
no matter how safe we try to be it could happen to any of us at any time. all it takes is just a split second, whether in a firetruck or POV. we never know when our time will come, the lord will decide that. my thoughts and prayrs go out to the families of our fallen brothers.

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