WEST SALEM, Ohio (WJW)– The Ohio State Highway Patrol released more information on a Wayne County crash that killed a firefighter Monday afternoon.
It started when troopers and emergency crews responded to a one-car crash in the southbound lanes of Interstate 71 near state Route 301.
As the trooper and the Town and Country Fire District were finishing their reports, a commercial vehicle hit the left rear of the fire truck, then the patrol cruiser and the car from the initial crash, the highway patrol said. That’s when the trooper and firefighter were hit.
Steve Hill, of the Highway Patrol’s Wooster post, was able to radio his dispatchers to say he had been hit and get additional help at the scene.
Help arrived from several other area fire departments and it was quickly determined that the trooper’s injuries were not life threatening.
“Once we were able to determine the trooper was OK, we were unable to locate the firefighter on the scene. It was determined that he had been struck by that semi and required some extrication,” said Highway Patrol Lieutenant Todd Roberts.
Town and Country firefighter Lt. Philip M. Wigal, 35, died at the scene.
Wigal started with the Town and Country Fire District in August 2006 as a part-time firefighter. He was promoted in 2011.
An emotional Town and Country Fire Chief Adam Hory reflected on his fallen friend and coworker.
“Phil was a very devoted family man to his wife Lindsay and their two daughters, Gracie and Gwen… Phil was strong in his faith and seemed to grow stronger every day. It was a huge loss for the fire department, the community and most importantly, his family,” said Hory.
At the scene, the firetruck was being used to block the area where troopers and others were working.
The Highway Patrol says, under the circumstances, the fact that the truck was there may have helped save other lives.
“Lt. Wigal 100% did his job. The position of that fire truck was there to keep that scene safe and those roadway workers and first responders as safe as they can be. Had he not put that piece of equipment where it was at, we may be speaking of a totally different circumstance with a lot more fatalities,” said Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Ray Santiago.
When the call went out about the accident, fellow firefighters held their breath and were heartbroken to learn Wigal had passed away.
“I was really hoping it wasn’t anyone I knew closely. It’s just devastating,” said Ryan Shanower, with Erie Valley Fire & Rescue.
The two met while working on a project at the firehouse, and then last October Shanower said he was hired to DJ his wedding.
“There was so much love there. You could tell from the moment they walked in that the entire room lit up with those two,” said Shanower.
He said Phil was very straightforward, personable and easy talk to and so happy with his new bride, Lindsay, and family.
Now, he and other firefighters from across the state and nation are sending the family their condolences and immeasurable support.
“The entire family was amazing,” said Shanower. ”I want them to know that we are all here with them, their family and kids, and that they’re not alone in this battle.”
The driver of the commercial vehicle, a 41-year-old Florida man, was taken to the hospital for minor injuries.
The highway patrol says the driver has been cooperative with them and the results of their investigation will be turned over to the Wayne County prosecutor’s office to determine what charges might be filed.
In the meantime, Santiago says the crash is a reminder of how important it is to be alert and to recognize and react to scenes on highways where people are working.
“These situations are too frequent. No matter what the circumstances are and every day there are folks that are putting their lives on the line to serve the public and keep everyone else safe and we just ask that folks do the same and be mindful while we are out there doing our jobs,” said Santiago.