State OK given in time for mutual aid

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Ky. cabinet waives bridge weight limit

By Dave Taylor

Just two days before a devastating fire nearly destroyed the Jefferson County Courthouse in Madison, Ind., the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet gave Milton’s Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department the OK to cross the Milton-Madison Bridge with trucks weighing over the 15-ton limit.


Otherwise, Milton’s volunteers would have been forced to watch helplessly from the Kentucky shoreline of the Ohio River, rather than play a role in fighting the fire Wednesday, May 20.

“Thank goodness,” said Milton Fire Chief Ronnie Barnes. “I had told them it was important that we be allowed to cross the bridge to Madison anytime they needed us, and likewise it was important for Madison to bring their units over here if we needed help.”

Cabinet officials imposed the weight limit April 2 on the 80-year-old bridge, which carries U.S. 421 across the river. The decision to prohibit heavy commercial trucks was based on a draft report from a biennial bridge inspection in December, which indicated advanced deterioration on various components of the span.

The weight limit was set as a precaution as the state began developing plans for repairs.

Without the state’s waiver, fire trucks from either side of the river were prohibited, eliminating mutual aid in case of an emergency, Barnes said.

Barnes received verbal permission Monday, May 18, from a cabinet official, who gave the OK for fire equipment that exceeds the 15-ton limit to cross the bridge in an emergency, but with one stipulation.

“They gave us the approval that we go across as long as we shut traffic down on both ends before we went across,” Barnes said.

So on Wednesday, May 20, Milton responded to the alarm in Madison with a pumper truck weighing more than 42,000 pounds – or 21 tons, Barnes said. The department also responded with a support vehicle that is well under the weight limit, plus two passenger vehicles carrying firefighters.

The advance car shut down traffic on the Madison side, while a followup passenger vehicle stopped traffic in Milton to allow the pumper across the bridge.

Milton initially was on the scene to provide backup assistance in case of another fire or emergency in downtown Madison. Fire companies from other surrounding communities provided coverage for Madison’s hilltop so that Madison’s six units and units from Hanover could battle the blaze without disruption.

Bedford Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Westside Volunteer Fire Department in Carroll County were placed on standby to cover the Milton area while that department responded in Madison.

When a Madison truck broke down, Kentucky responders were pulled into action amid the thickest of the smoke on the west side of the courthouse, Barnes said.

“They had us on the Jefferson Street side of the building putting water up on the top. They were very thankful that we were there, just as I would have been if it had been the other way around.”

Barnes said he would send a copy of the state’s letter to Madison Fire Chief Steve Horton when he receives it, “so Madison will know they’re able to cross the bridge and respond if we need their help here.”

Barnes added that when the fire was under control later Wednesday evening, the crowd gave a spontaneous show of support as Milton’s firefighters left the scene.

Madison residents “were standing all along both sides of the street .cheering us and thanking us. That really made us feel good.”

One day Trimble County’s firefighters may need help from Madison, Barnes said. “One certainly hopes that is never the case, but you can ever be certain.”

Live Internet chat

postponed to June 2

The day before the fire, May 19, the Transportation Cabinet and the Indiana Department of Transportation held an open house in Madison to allow for public comment and questions regarding the Milton-Madison Bridge Project.

A live interactive Internet “chat” had been scheduled for Thursday, May 21, to provide additional opportunities for the public to ask questions, but that event was postponed because of Wednesday’s fire.

That has been rescheduled for 12-2 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, June 2, at www.miltonmadisonbridge.com.

A panel of representatives from both sides of the river and engineers are examining rehabilitation or replacement of the bridge. The project is still in the early stages.