By Bill Archer
BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — Lights in the southern end of the tunnel illuminate an odd design beside the catwalk near the left lane of the northbound tube of the East River Mountain Tunnel that transports I-77 from Virginia into West Virginia. Two firefighters who made the initial assault through the total darkness of the soot and smoke-filled tunnel left those marks as they slid their arms along the catwalk wall on their journey back to the light.
Darrin Haynes and Josh Parks, the only two firefighters at Bluefield’s No. 3 Station on Cumberland Road were the first on the scene of the truck fire in the northbound tunnel on Friday afternoon. The two firefighters received the call at 3:07 p.m., had their gear on and were in the engine by 3:09 p.m., drove the four miles on John Nash Boulevard to the entrance to southbound I-77, drove the 5,412 feet through the southbound tube, and circled back around near the southern end of the northbound tube at 3:17 p.m.
“The cars were already backing out of the tunnel when we arrived,” Haynes said on Saturday afternoon. Although the B-Shift was on duty for 24-straight hours, Haynes returned to the Central Station to unwind Saturday afternoon. “There was even a guy backing a camper trailer out of there and he was doing all right. We helped him a little.”
As soon as the firefighters cleared the entrance of motorists who were trapped inside the tunnel when the truck caught fire, Haynes and Parks drove their engine into the smoke. When they got so far that they didn’t think they could proceed any further safely, they stopped and decided to back out of the tunnel, and attempt to attack the fire in a different way. “The fire ran us out,” Haynes said.