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Chief Mickuleit describes district’s response to fatal accident in Cape

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Nov 4, 2020


Firefighters from Station 4 in Matlacha were a stone’s throw from the crash Tuesday, Oct. 27, at the intersection of Pine Island Road and Burnt Store Road, resulting in the death of 62-year-old Armando Rodriguez-Rodriguez, who was driving a dump truck when 75-year-2020-old Daria Kukuruza turned in front of him, according to Cape Coral Police accident reports.

To avoid hitting her vehicle, Rodriguez-Rodriguez swerved and his dump truck rolled on its side and hit the traffic light control box and power pole.

“We were the first arriving unit and we took command of the scene,” said Fire Chief Ben Mickuleit, who reported having two engines and three command staff as well as assistance from Cape Coral at the time. “We were there for probably five hours.” Mickuleit estimated roughly 30 firefighters working the scene.

“We had difficulty accessing the patient,” said Mickuleit concerning the dump-truck driver, Rodriguez. “Once we made access to the patient, the patient was pronounced.”

It took some time to even gain access, he said, due to the dump truck having rolled over on its side and sliding into the traffic light pole.

“The driver was in the truck against the traffic light pole,” Mickuleit said. “The other factor was that we had 75-100 gallons of diesel fuel leaking the entire time that we couldn’t stop because the engine was sheared off and the fuel tanks were punctured.” Two fire hoses as well as liquid foam were at the ready at any given time, he explained, describing the scene as traumatic.

After talking internally with the Cape Coral team, Mickuleit said neither of the fire departments had ever seen a vehicle extrication to this extent. Fortunately the first engine from Matlacha’s Station 4 was able to be on the scene in less than a minute. “There were two other vehicles involved. One patient was considered a trauma alert and transported to Lee Memorial,” said Mickuleit, speaking of Kukuruza, “and the other, which was a mini-van, didn’t have much damage.”

The diesel fuel spill caused much concern due to emitting vapors, he explained, adding that they had to immediately set up a safety perimeter and anyone working on the extrication had to be fully suited in fire gear with air tanks in order to breathe.

“We had to rotate the crew every 10 to 15 minutes,” said Mickuleit. “It was so hot Tuesday. Between working with the heavy tools and being in all that gear…well it was just miserable for them.”

According to Mickuleit, Cape Coral provided the hazmat team, which was on the scene as standard protocol with a fuel spill of that size. The DEP was also there to assess the scene and determine how to protect the environment from the spill.

Mickuleit credits the community as well as the fire crews for containing the situation as quickly as possible.

“We were very fortunate to have the tools available to us,” said Mickuleit. “Thank you to the community for providing this, so we have good working equipment that enables us to get the job done. Without this, we couldn’t have done anything near what we were able to do.”