A five-vehicle accident involving a Lake Travis fire engine sent 10 to the hospital and backed up traffic on the already-congested RM 620 for hours last Wednesday.
All four firefighters aboard the engine were among those hospitalized and another victim was airlifted to Dell Seton Medical Center.
Lake Travis Fire Rescue department eventually issued a release stating that engineer William Tatsch, who was driving the LTFR vehicle, lost consciousness while driving, resulting in the vehicle crossing the over the center of RM 620 and hitting four civilian vehicles before coming to a stop on the roadside.
The LTFR release said Tatsch’s loss of consciousness was due to “an extremely rare case of a presumed vasovagal syncope.”
On its website, the Mayo Clinic describes a vasovagal syncope as a fainting spell due to the body overreacting to a triggering event such as the sight of blood or extreme emotional distress, causing the person’s heart rate and blood pressure to suddenly drop.
Tatsch is a 17-year veteran of the department and has been a driver for 13 years, according to Braden Frame of the Lake Travis Fire Fighters Association.
“In that long career, (Tatsch) has never had a medical emergency ever while operating a fire engine,” Frame said.
The department said the engine was returning to its home station, located on Comanche Trail just north of the intersection of RM 620 and Steiner Ranch Boulevard, where it serves the communities of River Place, Steiner Ranch, Comanche Trail and Marshall Ford as Emergency Services District 6.
LTFR Battalion Chief Michael Prather Prather said drones flying in the area of the accident impeded STAR Flight’s ability to land and extract injured victims.
“There were a couple of drones flown by civilians that were over the scene and that was impeding STAR Flight’s ability to enter that air space,” said Prather. “When there is a major incident, seconds count. We need to be thoughtful and mindful of the fact that putting those drones in an airspace where we may need (to land) a helicopter is wasting valuable time.”
LTFR, with its 73 operations department members, conducts an annual wellness program to ensure its firefighters are “all fit for duty,” Frame said. The program includes lab work, electrocardiogram tests and a physical fitness exam, he said
“Engineer Tatsch has passed that test every year including this last year,” Frame said.
Tatsch also suffered a concussion in the incident and he, along with veteran firefighters Rachel Zambrano, Brian Baker and Joel Niemeyer, will remain off duty for a number of shifts, Prather said.
At the time of the accident, Baker and Niemeyer were able to get out of the engine and help injured civilians, call for assistance and tend to Tatsch, Prather said. Zambrano, who was riding on the side of the engine that rolled onto the ground, suffered a concussion and required seven stitches to her forehead.
Of the 12 people injured on the scene, two refused treatment and others were taken by ambulance to area hospitals. By Saturday, all four firefighters had been released from the hospital.
No additional information was available on the injuries sustained by civilians.