Firefighter recalls brutal conditions while helping save drivers caught in I-94 pile-up

Casselton pile-up drone still
Casselton pile-up drone still(Jason Bednar)
Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 5:52 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - It was the first call of the day for the volunteers on Casselton’s Fire Department who made their way in near-whiteout conditions to a growing accident site with multiple injured drivers.

The initial collision happened just after 10 a.m. Monday between a rear-end crash between a passenger vehicle and a semi, which blocked both westbound lanes of I-94 near Casselton. The other drivers weren’t able to see the crash because of the poor visibility, creating a pile-up of vehicles, officials say.

“Getting there in the first place, we were going maybe 30, 35 miles an hour instead of usual interstate speeds,” Casselton Fire Chief John Hejl said.

Hejl says what should have been a five-minute drive to the scene was much closer to 15.

“10 minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but 10 minutes at negative eight with a wind chill at whatever it was yesterday, is a long time to sit there,” Hejl said.

Hejl posted a photo of one firefighter who’s beard had all but turned to an icicle during his time working the scene, as well as a video of another firefighter walking through the accident while battling gusty winds. Hejl says he wanted to show the community the seriousness and danger of the blizzard, as well as to emphasize what he and crews like his have to go through in order to help save you.

“Look at the conditions we’re operating in. You definitely don’t want to be a part of this,” he said. “The blowing snow and the freezing temperatures make all of our tools slippery when they are covered in snow plus the cold just makes moving and doing anything more difficult.”

Hejl, along with several other first responders urge drivers to stay off the roads during weather events like this, and say the risk just isn’t worth it.

Some of Casselton’s volunteers did sustain mild frostbite from their time at the scene, but Hejl said thankfully it was nothing more and they should be fully healed in a few days.

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