A fire engine overturned near the runway at Owen Roberts International Airport on Jan. 5, 2005. The incident caused the temporary halting all air traffic to and from Grand Cayman.

The Cayman Islands Fire Service was warned in October 2005 about the potential for its fire engines to tip over at relatively low turning speeds, the Cayman Compass can reveal.

The warning came after a police investigation of a rollover accident involving a T-2500 model fire engine at Owen Roberts International Airport in January 2005.

Police Constable Michael Caputo, a Royal Cayman Islands Police Service accident reconstructionist at the time, wrote a memo to the fire service’s aerodrome division on Oct. 17, 2005. He asked that his findings be passed along to all members of the fire service who operate the T-2500 and T-3000 engine models used in the fleet.

“The stability of these trucks are poor based on track width and height of center [of] mass and this is why the rollover speeds are so low,” Mr. Caputo wrote in the 2005 memo. “Attention must be given to the speed of the truck and the corresponding steering wheel position to prevent future rollovers.”

Fire service officials confirmed Friday that a T-3000 model engine was involved in the Cayman Brac airport rollover accident on Thursday.

The accident report from 2005 stated that the fire engines require three complete rotations of the steering wheel before the wheel “locks up” (meaning it can turn no further).

“This equates to rollover speeds of 36.4 mph (on the first turn), 26 mph (on the second) and 22.5 mph (on the third),” Mr. Caputo wrote. “This … tells me that the steering wheel position for the January 2005 accident was about one and a half turns for 30 mph rollover.”

A Cayman Compass newspaper report published Jan. 6, 2005 about a fire engine overturning near the runway at Owen Roberts International Airport.

The reason why the firefighter driving the engine during the 2005 crash was deemed not to be at fault is explained: “The (fire service) operations manual makes no reference whatsoever with regard to how to drive the fire truck or limits not to exceed to prevent a rollover.”

The investigation into last week’s accident at the Charles Kirkconnell International Airport in the Brac that injured two firemen on board is ongoing.

A government statement sent in response to Cayman Compass questions indicate that the fire engine manufacturer, Oshkosh, is arranging to send one of its experts to assess the vehicle, which was bought in 2006.

The fire service conducts monthly mandatory speed tests of its trucks used for airport operations with the goal of achieving a two-minute response time to any point on the airport runway.

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According to the government, the speed testing is done accordance with regulatory requirements that must be complied with by all Rescue and Fire Fighting Service providers at international airports.

The government statement also indicates that speeds between 65 mph and 69 mph can be reached during these speed tests.

“In the 12 years since the last airport-based fire truck accident occurred on the runway at Owen Roberts International Airport in January 2005, an average of 144 performance tests for speed have been conducted at that location and a similar number have been executed in Cayman Brac without incident,” the government statement issued Friday notes. “In addition to the monthly performance checks, the vehicles also undergo daily inspections as part of the shift handover.”

A fire truck flipped over during what was described by officials as a “mandatory speed test.”

Airport partially closed

Cayman Brac’s airport was still closed to jet traffic Monday and is expected to remain so until a new fire truck is shipped to the island to replace the vehicle that flipped over there on Jan. 5.

Smaller Twin-Otter and Saab prop planes which service the route between the Brac and Grand Cayman are still able to land and were deployed to minimize passenger disruption.

Air safety guidelines require at least two fire trucks to be on standby for a jet to be able to land, officials said.

Compass reporter James Whittaker contributed to this story.

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