FIRST LOOK: Fire department sees challenges with East End bridge and tunnel

FIRST LOOK: Fire department sees challenges with East End bridge and tunnel
Indiana gave the department $1.7 million to buy a specialized rescue truck and train 15 people specifically for bridge and tunnel rescue but that funding will soon run out. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Indiana gave the department $1.7 million to buy a specialized rescue truck and train 15 people specifically for bridge and tunnel rescue but that funding will soon run out. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – With the public getting ready for the East End bridge and tunnel project to open Sunday, the Harrods Creek Fire Department is making final preparations, too.

"I've heard about it ever since I came to Louisville," said Harrods Creek Fire Chief Kevin Tyler, a 37-year Louisville resident. "It's been quite amazing because this used to go uphill and there's no resemblance to what it was before."

He views the project through a different lens.

"It has some neat things inside here as far as suppression capabilities and ventilation system," Tyler said of the tunnel.

While the tunnel creates a shorter route for drivers, it creates challenges for firefighters battling smoke.

"It's going to go up to the ceiling and bank down which is going to make the visibility in the tunnel go way down," Tyler said.

Up on the bridge, he's in awe.

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"The bridges downtown, the Kennedy and the 2nd Street and the Sherman Minton, it's like being inside a cage," Tyler said. "As we approach this bridge, you can see it's open so you can see the view and the beauty of the Ohio River Valley."

Still, he's always looking for the issues that may arise.

"We look at the challenges that may happen," Tyler said. "We got a pedestrian bridge. What kind of challenges will we have with pedestrians up here
maybe riding their bikes or jogging and have a medical event? How do we access that?"

His biggest challenge is a lack of personnel.

Indiana gave the department $1.7 million to buy a specialized rescue truck and train 15 people specifically for bridge and tunnel rescue. That funding
runs out at the end of the project and neither Indiana nor Kentucky is stepping up to help out. That means the department will have to fire the people it just trained.

"It's very dangerous," Tyler said. "It's going to hamper the way we respond and how long we respond and how long it takes us to extricate victims off the bridge or in the tunnel. It's a highway. We have MVAs, or motor vehicle accidents, on highways."

As construction races to the finish line, Tyler is finalizing rescue plans.

"I know two weeks ago I would've said no way. I don't think they're going to have any part of it ready," Tyler said. "It's really exciting."

Tuesday, officials will announce the start date for tolling for the Ohio River Bridges project.

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