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Firefighters honored for explosion exploits
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Effingham EMA Director Ed Myrick, second from right, presented a commendation to Jennifer Wright of Effingham Fire and Rescue. Also pictured are interim Effingham Fire Chief Jack Burnsed and Brooke Dicks of the EEMA. - photo by Photo provided

An off-duty Effingham County firefighter who was one of the first to respond to a tanker-pickup truck collision and fire that claimed the lives of three brothers, and two Springfield firefighters were honored for their efforts in that incident.

Effingham Emergency Management Agency Director Ed Myrick presented Jennifer Wright with a commendation during the county commissioners’ meeting, hailing her work and the efforts of the more than 50 public safety personnel who were on hand during the Nov. 21 incident.

Springfield firefighter David Grenoble was commended as the site commander and because of his efforts, Myrick said, resources were streamlined and response times were hastened.

Springfield Fire Chief Travis Zittrouer also received a commendation from the Effingham EMA, as Myrick remarked on his expertise and training that was on display during the explosion’s aftermath.

“Only three people were recommended for commendations,” Myrick said, “and Chief Travis is at the top of that list. I am very grateful for our mutual aid agreement.”

Zittrouer showed “exceptional leadership,” Myrick continued, in a tragedy that often leads to how training manuals are written.

“We sometimes don’t recognize the harm first responders place themselves in,” Myrick said, “when responding to an emergency such as this, not only their physical presence but also the emotional trauma that they are exposed to when witnessing first-hand such a traumatic event.”

A Ford pickup collided with a tanker truck on Highway 17 on the afternoon of Nov. 21, and the county “experienced a tragedy unfathomable to most, an incident that placed first responders in an impossible situation,” Myrick added.

Wright was off-duty but went to the scene when she heard the collision and explosion.

“Jennifer Wright was able to stay calm and communicate the necessary information to responding units so decisions could be made in advance,” Myrick said. “She is also responsible for clearing the roadway on the south end of the collision which consisted of several vehicles and a loaded school bus. This is important if you understand the totality of the situation, even though the tanker itself had exploded, it consisted of three separate compartments — and only one compartment had exploded. There was still an estimated 5,000 gallons of ignitable fuel that created a very unstable environment.”

The crash and explosion killed Wesley Mulligan, Garrett Mulligan and Eli Hickox. The three brothers were on their way to pick up their sister from school.

“This type of environment creates vulnerability, anxiety, and emotional changes in a first responder that are extremely difficult to predict or control,” Myrick said. “Every one of the 50-plus personnel involved in the incident that day performed as they were trained and worked together for the common goal. I feel that it is extremely important to not only constantly improve in areas which need addressing but to also acknowledge those who perform at an exceptional level.”

Wright started as a volunteer in 2006 and has been with the Effingham County Fire Rescue fulltime since August 2013. Her actions Nov. 21 saved lives and drastically improved response times, Myrick said.