After two fire trucks collided in Monterey Park on Wednesday, sending one of them crashing into a restaurant, the firefighters climbed out and immediately set about rescuing injured civilians, officials said Thursday.
The fire chiefs for the Monterey Park and Alhambra fire departments, which each had three personnel involved in the crash, praised the firefighters for overcoming their own injuries to aid the nine civilians who were hurt, one of them critically.
One Monterey Park firefighter who was also seriously injured, and who remained hospitalized Thursday, helped rescue a restaurant customer who was pinned between the truck and wreckage inside.
"I tip my hat off to firefighters from both agencies," Monterey Park Fire Chief Jim Birrell told reporters at a news conference Thursday.
The crash, which is being investigated by a major accident team with the California Highway Patrol, happened shortly after 3 p.m. The Monterey Park fire engine and the Alhambra ladder truck were responding to the same emergency call, a house fire in a one-story home on the south end of the city. For reasons unknown, the vehicles collided, sending the fire engine careening into Lu Dumpling House.
Inside the restaurant, a waitress captured cellphone footage of the aftermath, showing a cluttered dining area, toppled chairs and tables.
Vivian Lu, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, said more than a dozen employees and customers were inside the restaurant. One employee described the crash to Lu as sounding like an earthquake.
Doris Peniche, a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol, which is in charge of the investigation, said it could take several weeks to determine what caused the collision. Officials said they would review everything from the speed of the vehicles to recorded conversations via radio communications.
Birrell said both agencies co-respond to emergency calls every day.
"It's the first time in my 31 years that anything of this magnitude has happened," he said.
While the chiefs declined to comment specifically on the investigation, they did say that the headsets the firefighters were wearing at the time do "diminish" outside noise. But Alhambra Fire Chief Bill Walker said he didn't think played "a large role" in the collision.
Both trucks were running their lights and sirens at the time of the crash.
“These folks were dealing with a lot yesterday, and it was chaotic on the scene," Birrell said.
The Monterey Park firefighter and one civilian who remained hospitalized Thursday were in stable condition, officials said.
[For the Record, 3:50 p.m. PDT April 17: A previous version of this post misspelled the last name of the Monterey Park fire chief as Burrell instead of Birrell.]