By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Atmore firefighters displayed last Saturday, June 9, their ability to cope with most any situation that might arise, no matter how out-of-the-ordinary it might be.
Local firemen spent more than four hours off-loading the personal and professional libraries of a Mobile minister after one of three large moving vans traveling in a convoy developed mechanical problems, then fell from a wrecker that was towing it to the local U-Haul outlet for exchange.
Atmore Fire Chief Ron Peebles said the incident was one of the most bizarre in which he has been involved during his four decades of emergency service.
“It was stuffed with boxes of books,” Peebles said of the disabled van, which slid off the tow truck and onto the roadside at the junction of Trammell and Howard streets just before dusk on Friday.
“It was the dangest thing; I’ve never seen anything like it. It was just unbelievable how many books he had in there. We didn’t count them, but I would bet there were 3,000 to 4,000 boxes of books in that truck.”
Family members were helping the minister and his wife complete a move from the Port City to his new church assignment in Gadsden. When one of the rented trucks broke down at Interstate 65’s exit 57, the company reportedly instructed the group to have it towed to the local U-Haul center and get a replacement vehicle.
Official reports show that Fletcher’s Towing of Pensacola sent a rollback wrecker here to haul the disabled moving van to its destination. As the tow truck operator made a right turn onto North Trammell around 5:30 p.m., the vehicle broke free from its restraints and tumbled off the side of the wrecker and onto its side, on the side of the street.
The driver reportedly placed cones around the overturned van and left, promising to return the next day and complete the tow. As the vehicle remained on its side overnight, its tank full of gasoline slowly leaked onto the surrounding terrain.
“The people that rented the truck had just put 50 gallons of gas in it, so by the time we found out about it, 50 gallons of gas had leaked onto the ground,” the fire chief said.
In fact, it was several reports of a “heavy gas smell” in the area that sent firemen to the scene around 9:43 a.m. Peebles said he was dumbstruck that the leaking vehicle had been allowed to remain on the roadside all night.
“When I got here and got caught up on the situation, I asked, ‘Did I hear that right?’ I thought it had been there since 6 that morning, not 6 the night before. The wrecker company made the decision to just leave it there until the next day, and we didn’t know anything about it until folks started calling that gas was leaking out of it.”
Lt. John Stallworth, second in command at the Atmore Police Department, said he isn’t quite sure why officers didn’t assure that the van was righted before the tow truck operator drove away.
“Technically, it was off the roadway,” Stallworth explained. “The driver said he spoke with a police supervisor and was told it was all right to put cones out and leave. But that [U-Haul] should have been gone. That’s something I plan to take up with [Chief Chuck Brooks].”
Stallworth said he learned of the situation when Peebles alerted him by phone. The Pensacola towing company had not returned by late Saturday morning, so the APD administrator called a local wrecker service, Castillow’s Towing, to take care of the problem.
“Due to the fuel spillage, it was not a choice anymore to leave it there,” he said. “It had already set there all night.”
Once the moving van was pulled onto its chassis, AFD personnel who had been standing by as two truckloads of dirt were dumped on the fuel spill stepped in to transfer the damaged van’s cargo to another truck. (Reports show that Fletcher’s Towing eventually returned to clean up the contaminated dirt and haul it away.)
They did not get the last box moved until almost 2 p.m.
“We were there all day, unloading and reloading boxes of books, in the rain,” laughed Peebles. “I don’t know how he got all those books in there. They had to call for another truck because we couldn’t get all the boxes from the first one into the second one.”
He said the assembly-line transfer was equally as tiring as most any other task he and his men have undertaken.
“I hurt everywhere — even my toes hurt — by the time we got through,” he said. “I told the guys that they didn’t have to go to the gym [Saturday] because they had already met their physical training requirement.”