On the Ground in Moore (OK) After the Tornado

By Bobby Halton

I went to Moore, Oklahoma, yesterday, the day after the horrific May 20th F5 tornado tore through this beautiful blue-collar city, laying waste to thousands of homes, displacing thousands of amazing Oklahomans, and testing the resiliency of the Moore Fire Department to once again weather Mother Nature’s most violent assault.

On the Ground in Moore (OK) After the Tornado

Moore was founded during the land run of 1889. The early settlers came on train, horseback, wagons, and some on foot. The town got its name after a railroad man hoping to get his mail delivered simply held a sign with his name on it, “Moore,” to the side of the boxcar he was sleeping in; pretty standard stuff here in Oklahoma. Moore grew as Oklahoma grew. Its current population is somewhere around 60,000.

On May 3, 1999, Moore experienced the most violent tornado ever recorded. As a result, more than 1,000 dwelling units were destroyed and some 3,000- 4,000 residents were either temporarily or permanently displaced. Moore experienced another tornado in 2003 of less severity that nonetheless impacted the community significantly. Moore has recovered from those two storms, but Monday the city was hit once again. It’s located on what weather folk call a dry line; that’s why tornadoes tear through the Midwestern part of the country with such regularity and on a seemingly similar path over and over again. They have done so for hundreds of years and they will continue to do so. Oklahomans will deal with it as they dealt with this one, with courage, resiliency, and humility towards nature and faith in one another.

An important factor in the city's growth has been its location. The close proximity and easy access to the state capital city to the north and the University of Oklahoma to the south make Moore an attractive, convenient place to live.

The Moore Fire Department (MFD) was established in 1916 and currently serves the citizens of Moore with four strategically located stations over 22 square miles. The MFD employees 72 fire service professionals and has grown with the construction of three new/relocated stations and administrative offices in 2011. I was fortunate enough to grab an interview yesterday with the chief of department, Gary Bird, a true gentleman, leader, and a man of great dignity and character. That interview will be available on fireengineering.com.

I was also able to visit with hundreds of firefighters who were working diligently continuing to search for survivors and victims. We watched as men and women from the Moore Fire Department—along with their brothers and sisters from fire departments across the state of Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Kansas, both career and volunteer, active and retired--stood shoulder to shoulder with civilian volunteers, law enforcement, military, and just plain old solid Oklahomans working together to restore order to the city.

On the Ground in Moore (OK) After the Tornado

We heard hundreds of stories of amazing rescues, stories we will be featuring in Fire Engineering in the days to come. We traveled to a medical center that collapsed, trapping 18 civilians, when the noncombustible concrete structure, massive concrete slabs, shattered. We listened to the heroic stories of the on-duty firefighters from Moore, Norman, Oklahoma City, and their surrounding communities who entered those void spaces to make those 18 amazing rescues.

We traveled to both schools that were affected by the storm: one where 300 students survived unscathed, and one where nine beautiful and precious children were lost. We listened to the heroic stories of teachers and parents combing through the debris, rescuing children and one another. We were humbled to be among such amazing people. This picture below is of that school where 300 survived. One can only imagine the courage it took to enter that building.

On the Ground in Moore (OK) After the Tornado

We also spent some time in the command center meeting with the folks from the state disaster management bureau, the FEMA IST team, the incident commanders, and members of the National Guard. The professionalism and level of control displayed in that command center was second to none; with the incident barely 20 hours old, they had already completed the initial primary search, secured the majority of utilities, developed operational plans, and were already well into their recovery planning.

On the Ground in Moore (OK) After the Tornado

I would like to thank my friends in particular--Moore Chief Gary Bird, Chief John Hansen, Oklahoma City Battalion Chief Mike Walker, Norman Fire Chief Fullingim, and so many others--for their kindness in allowing us full access to the site and their continuing support of our efforts to let you know how amazing and how important you are to your communities.

The men and women of the Moore Fire Department were not just accidentally successful Monday, nor was the professionalism displayed by all of the assisting fire departments and law enforcement agencies an accident. It was the result of two things: 1) dedicated and passionate public servants who have a relentless desire for training and service ,and 2) a community that recognizes the importance of having a well-funded, well-trained, and well-supported public safety sector as the keystone of their communities foundation.

I would like to ask you to please contribute to the Red Cross. Please keep these people in your thoughts and prayers. We will continue to update you and we will continue to visit with our friends in Moore.

Remember train hard, stay humble, and God bless America.


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