PRINEVILLE, Ore. -- Ten firefighters heading to a small blaze in Central Oregon were injured Tuesday when the driver of their van fell asleep and their vehicle crashed into an oncoming semi-truck.
One of the firefighters, Marcelino Romero, 39, was in critical condition after getting airlifted to St. Charles Medical Center in Bend.
The nine other injured firefighters were treated at area hospitals and released. They were identified as Christopher Reed, 29, of Sheridan; Rogelia Saimc, 22, of Salem; Jesus Medera, 38, of Independence; Pedro Ramos, 37, of Salem; Manuel Abriz, 40, of Salem; Jovita Romero, 36, of Woodburn; Jose Salas, 20, of Salem, and Jerson Mendoza, 33, also from Salem.
"I think we're really fortunate that no one was killed in it and that more people weren't more seriously injured," said Lt. Gregg Hastings.
The wildland firefighters all work for Lava River Forestry, out of Salem, according to The Oregon Department of Forestry. They were on their way to the Briley Mountain Fire near Monument in Grant County.
Investigators said the crash happened on a curve west of Prineville about 2:15 a.m.
Police cited the van diver, 35-year-old Jeremy Miesner, on a count of failure to drive within a lane. Investigators think he fell asleep at the wheel.
Rod Nichols is with the State Department of Forestry that oversees the firefighters. He said crews must adhere to work-rest rules, meaning they can not work without a certain number of hours of rest and that includes time spent driving.
Nichols said no rules were broken by the firefighters involved in the Tuesday morning crash.
“The idea is to keep people safe, not only when they drive, but also when they fight fires,” he explained.
The truck driver, Scott Ramage, 48, of Washington and his one passenger were not injured.
Back in 2003, 8 firefighters from Roseburg and Portland were killed when the van they were riding in collided with a truck and exploded in flames. that deadly crash prompted state officials to review protocol for potential safety changes.