A water tanker owned by the Echo Fire Department responding to a series of fires along the railroad tracks west of Pendleton rolled down an embankment and was shot before being towed away by employees of Woodpecker Truck in October of 2001.
The tanker rolled off Yoakum Road near Rieth Road when a volunteer driver apparently turned too hard on a gentle uphill curve and hit the shoulder, which gave way. The truck was totaled but the driver, who was using safety restraints, was uninjured.
A crew from Woodpecker Truck arrived to tow the rig back up the hill, but the tanker, which held 5,000 gallons of water, was too heavy even for two heavy-duty tow trucks, and the vehicle also came to rest on its side, burying the valves used to empty the tank. So the Woodpecker crew improvised — with a handgun. After the tanker was emptied, it took two hours to pull the truck off the hill.
Fire district officials said the tanker, an early ’80s model, would likely have its initial purchase cost covered by insurance, but were unsure how long it would take to replace. Echo Rural Fire Protection District Chief Merle Gehrke said the fire district purchased the truck from a Portland truck company for $10,500, but spent thousands of dollars converting the former gasoline tanker for its new role as a water tanker. It had been in service less than a year when the accident happened. “Whether we can find a replacement for that amount, I don’t know,” said fire district treasurer Kaye McAtee. “We were lucky on that one.” Winter weather and fewer fires would give the fire department time to look for a new tanker.
It was a interesting situation for Woodpecker Truck, too. Supervisor John Rehberg said, “Once in a while fire departments might have a tanker break down and we have to tow it in, but nothing like this.”