LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — Concrete medians, an oft-decried traffic control measure on South Florida Avenue, played a role in a crash that injured four Polk County Fire Rescue crew members this weekend, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
“Three members of the crew were on a regular shift. One person volunteered to work overtime that day,” said Dr. Hezedean Smith, Polk County Fire Rescue Chief.
Dr. Smith said there were four members in the ambulance Friday night because they had just responded to a cardiac arrest call, which required a resuscitation.
One of the members was also completing paramedic training.
Then, the crew responded to another call, with its lights and sirens on, driving southbound on South Florida Avenue just before midnight.
According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, an unidentified vehicle was not able to pull over for the ambulance due to concrete medians on the side of the road.
The ambulance “went around the unknown vehicle and struck the center median and then [the ambulance] struck the right shoulder median losing control and colliding with the business,” the crash report reads.
According to a Florida Department of Transportation spokesperson, the center median is known as an “interruptor island” to prevent drivers from using the center lane as a through lane.
It was also installed as a “pedestrian refuge” to give pedestrians a place to stand while crossing the street in that area.
All four crew members in the ambulance were taken to the hospital.
As of midday Monday, one member remained hospitalized.
According to the sheriff’s office, injuries ranged from minor to a hand fracture to fractured ribs and tibia.
The building the ambulance crashed into was the former home of “Proud Gator.”
“Absolutely,” said Proud Gator owner Roi Cornish when asked if he was emotional looking at the damage. “I mean this was my home for a lot of years but I’m just glad the folks are OK that were in the accident. I just wish them the best.”
Cornish owned the sports merchandise shop off and on since 1996 and closed it in April citing “market conditions.”
He expects the entire west wall to need to be replaced. He said he walked through the store Saturday and debris went all the way to the back of the store.
“I was in shock, actually. We’ve had six or seven fender benders here in front of the store back when we were open but to see this type of devastation was just amazing and just found out it was an ambulance and there were four people in there,” said Cornish.
Dr. Smith, the Polk Fire Rescue Chief, said it is important for drivers, including ambulance drivers to maintain situational awareness and presence of mind while on the road, especially around concrete medians.
“Accidents do happen and we, as a fire department, we’re very mindful of fire response and ask the community to bear with us and provide us the support that’s needed,” said Dr. Smith.