‘We dodged a bullet today’

Staff Writer
Brownwood Bulletin
Brownwood firefighter Justin Prince hoses down a pile of smoldering trash Monday at Thomason Park, where the driver dumped the load after realizing it was on fire in the back of the truck.

A combination of good fortune and quick action by a Brownwood sanitation trash truck driver saved the truck from burning up when part of its trash load caught fire Monday.

Driver Mike Cornelius dumped the trash onto the grass at Thomason Park, off Avenue C between 12th and 13th streets, Assistant City Manager Tim Airheart said. The city park park is one of several designated locations where drivers are instructed to dump trash in the event of a fire in the trash load, Airheart said.

Brownwood firefighters extinguished the smoldering pile of trash, which was loaded by a city crew with a front end loader into another truck. The truck was not damaged, Airheart said.

Cornelius saw smoke coming from the truck after a trash container fell out of the truck’s arms and into the truck, Airheart said. Cornelius stopped the truck, exited the cab and looked to see what could be done. That’s when Cornelius saw the smoke.

Billy Godwin, service manager for the city’s sanitation department, speculated that the fire started from hot ashes or charcoal from a barbecue pit being dumped with other trash into the truck sometime earlier, Airheart said.

“We dodged a bullet (Monday),” Airheart said.

After the city lost a trash truck to a trash fire in the late 1990s, the city designated several locations as dumping places in the event of a fire, Airheart said.

“Thomason Park is one of the designated spots,” Airheart said.

“(Cornelius) got out of the truck to take a look, and that’s when he realizes there is smoke coming out of the back of the truck.”

Cornelius had been headed for the landfill, and had to call for someone to come help him get the container out of the truck, Airheart said.

“That’s when they decided to take it over (to Thomason Park) and dump it,” Airheart said. Billy Godwin said that had he not noticed the smoke when he got out of the truck to investigate the fact that they had dumped a container inside the truck, they’d have lost it on the way to the landfill.

“It would’ve burnt that truck down and those trucks are quarter of a million dollars. He said when they dumped it, it flamed up big time. He said when they dumped it out on the ground, it got air to it and it really flamed up.”

The truck Cornelius was driving was five years old and nearing the end of its useful life, Airheart said.

Sanitation trucks are normally use as front line trucks for seven years, then used as backups. “By the end of the seventh year they are a rolling pile of bolts,” Airheart said.

“There’s not much you can do with them at that point.”

The city buys a new truck each year, which costs $250,000, Airheart said.

Had Cornelius’ truck burned up, the city would have had to replace or rebuild the truck, Airheart said.

The deductible in the city’s insurance is $5,000, Airheart said.

Brownwood firefighter Cody Cross (left) sprays water toward the back of a trash truck after its trash load caught fire as firefighter Ethan Rhodes stands next to him.