A Coca-Cola delivery driver narrowly escaped serious injury Tuesday morning when a tire exploded while he was trying to extinguish a fire in his truck's wheel system.
Wood River Fire and Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said his department was paged out at 6:40 a.m. to respond to a truck on fire at the rest stop near the intersection of state Highway 75 and U.S. Highway 20, nine miles south of Bellevue.
Lassman said the Coca-Cola truck was headed north on Highway 75 when a passing car flashed its lights at the driver, a man believed to be in his late 20s or early 30s.
"It was to let him know that there was fire coming from the rear dually," Lassman said. "The truck had 14 dual-tandem wheels and the fire was in the last set of wheels. He pulled into the rest stop and got under the truck in an attempt to put the fire out with an extinguisher."
Lassman said the man was underneath the vehicle, when the heat caused one of the tires to explode.
"He's very lucky he was not injured by flying tire rubber or metal from the wheels," Lassman said. "He sustained a temporary hearing loss from the explosion, but we did not transport him to the hospital. He could hardly hear, and he was a little shell-shocked, but he was OK."
Lassman said two engines and a water tender extinguished the flames in three minutes, but not before the transport truck's cargo was destroyed by the fire, which had spread into the compartments that carried the Coke products.
"It destroyed his load," Lassman said. "We investigated the fire and we believe it started in the brakes or wheel bearings. When bearings are damaged or missing they can heat up where it's just metal on metal with no lubrication. When it's super heated, it transfers to the rubber and pretty soon it's a pretty good fire."