THREE FORKS, Mont. – A fire engine and a pickup truck collided on a Montana highway Thursday night, causing an explosion and fire that killed a family of five and a volunteer fire chief, authorities said. There were no survivors.
The fire engine driven by Three Forks Volunteer Fire Department Chief Todd Rummel was heading east on U.S. Highway 12 when it collided with the westbound pickup about 10 miles east of Helena, forcing both vehicles into a ditch in a fiery blaze, authorities said.
Killed in the pickup were a Helena couple and their three young children, Montana Highway Patrol Capt. Gary Becker said. Their names and ages were not immediately released.
The crash devastated Rummel’s colleagues and the community of Three Forks, a town of about 2,000 people at the headwaters of the Missouri River.
Rummel, 44, was driving the fire engine alone to Three Forks from Helena, where its water pump had been repaired.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office sent the deceased to the state crime lab for identification and to determine the cause of death, Becker said. It will take some time to reconstruct what happened, he said.
“We’re going to take all the evidence and digest it all and see what we can come up with,” he said. “We can’t say anything until we make a positive determination of what happened.”
Firefighters learned of the crash overnight. They gathered at the firehouse Friday to talk through their shock and to welcome residents who stopped by to share a few words about Rummel, who was promoted to chief about a month ago.
“He didn’t really get a chance to meet his full potential as chief,” firefighter Dave Whitesitt said. “We’re trying to stick together as a team. We’re going to work through this.”
At 14, Todd Rummel joined a junior fire company at his father’s firehouse in Haycock Township, Pennsylvania, said his father, Allen Rummel.
At 18, he began fighting fires. He worked as an auto mechanic while serving as volunteer fire chief in Milford Township, Pennsylvania, said Jim Young, a firefighter there.
“That was his life. He was very dedicated,” Young said. “But talking to him years ago, his dream was to move out there” to Montana.
Rummel made the move in 2006, ending up in Three Forks, the site where the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin rivers meet to form the Missouri.
Rummel was battalion chief until May, when the firefighters unanimously selected him to replace the retiring chief.