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Home>Topics>>After the Tornado: Interview with Joplin (MO) Fire Chief MItchell Randles

After the Tornado: Interview with Joplin (MO) Fire Chief MItchell Randles

Wed, 27 Jul 2011|

Chief Bobby Halton intervews Fire Chief Mitchell Randles about the devastating tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011, killing 158 people.



Hi, I'm Bobby Halton Editor in Chief of Fire Engineering Magazine and this afternoon we have a very tremendous pleasure to be able to sit down with Firechief Mitch Randalls from Joplin, Missouri. On May 22nd at 5:41 p.m. 2011, the city of Joplin was literally torn in half by an F4, F5 tornado that went for 14 miles through the length of Joplin Missouri, about a mile wide in some spots, but 14 miles of devastation. During that time, the Joplin Fire Department remained on duty. They responded in a heroic and courageous fashion, and did tremendous work. There are several dates in the American Fire Service that we all recognize. May 22nd is gonna become one of those dates. Like 9-11. Where incredible courage, incredible sacrifice, incredible dedication. Were common among all the men and women of this organization. They never faltered, they never hesitated, they never put themselves ahead of the people of Joplin. And this, and the, and the, and the city of Joplin. They put themselves second in every instance, and in some cases third. Despite losing their own homes, despite having their stations destroyed. Despite having un, unimaginable devastation, they persevered, they innovated, they created, they did what they planned to do. They did above and beyond what they'd planned to do and they set an example, a bar for all of us to. to try to live up to. And for that, we thank you and we are very honored to have the leader of this incredible organization with us. A man who was born and raised in Joplin, Missouri. >> Yes. >> And has 20 years of service to the city of Joplin and currently sits the fire chief of this proud and noble organization. And chief, thank you for. Allowing us to spend some time with you. >> Well we appreciate you guys coming up and, and talking with us. >> Oh no we're, we're honored to be here and we thank you for the time. So your family is Joplin how, how many generations have been Joplin folks in, in the family? >> Well as far back as, as I can recall. You know, my family and my wife's family both were born and raised here, so, at least two or three, generations back, either Joplin or Webb City area, so... >> And you've seen Joplin grow, I mean, Joplin's the fourth largest city in the state of Missouri. >> Right. In, yeah, it, over the years, you know, they've made, you know, tremendous strides and, and has been moving forward, so... >> It's a beautiful, absolutely beautiful city. For the folks that haven't been to Joplin. It's almost picturesque. It's got a beautiful downtown with, you know, the old 1940 style buildings with the ornate cornices and things of that natures and then it had the residential district which unfortunately was destroyed. Beautiful homes. What I've been telling folks to do is to go to those Google Earth pictures before so you can have an idea of these picturesque neighborhoods that were just. Gorgeous. I mean it's where, you know where people would want to live. Obviously, it's a great place to live. >> Right and I agree. You know the city has really worked hard over the last several years to you know, maintain and have a rebirth of the history of the city of Joplin back to the, you know, the 20s to the 40s were the, you know basically the mining boom was going on here. And, and you know the city really embraces its history so. >> And, and you can see it. You can see that the buildings that have been preserved. We, we call America a disposable nation, but there's a lot of cities in America that didn't fall prey to that. And, and, and are embracing the restoration of these gorgeous buildings and these wonderful buildings. If you wouldn't mind and I know it's painful and we should probably tell everyone that chief lost his home all your family safe though >> yes they are all safe. >> But many 153 lost their lives that day. >> Yeah actually we're at now at 158 as of this morning. >> 158 as of this morning. So it was the deadliest tornado in the history of the United States. >> It's very close I think we are now yes. >> I guess since we kept records and you know maybe way back in the day but as far as we know this is the deadliest tornado >> yes >> so. I, if you don't mind, and I know it's painful. But if you don't mind, take us back to May 22nd, 5:30 p.m. Where were you? What were you doin'? >> Well, i was actually at my son's high school graduation. He graduated from Joplin High School. We had just finished the ceremony when I got a call from my emergency managers, you know, telling me that the weather was getting pretty bad, that they were getting ready to issue tornado warnings and and that I probably needed to, to think about getting to work. And so, as we were leaving you know, the The graduation ceremony you know, I was gonna take my my wife and my kids home and then you know, get in uniform and go ahead and come to the station and, and you know, kinda do our normal storm routine that we, that we have when, you know, events like this Well, in a, events like like this, but when normal weather, things happen. >> So what is it? I just interrupted, wha-, what is the normal storm routine? What would the men, and women do? >> Well, typically, our emergency manager, and a, a secondary chief officer would come in, and monitor the weather, and ya know, just. Be here to, to help our dispatchers and our on duty folks make that decision on, you know sounding storm sires, on the paths of the storm and you know, altering the citizens and, you know just the, the normal things that go into you know, the decisions that are made. By any of the, the, the towns that are in the midwest and you know in tornado alleys. >> Right, right. At which nowadays basically goes from California to Ohio. >> Yeah. >> When I was in Boston just three or four weeks ago. Two towns were leveled by an F4, in, in, in Boston, Springfield, Massachusetts. So it's about 5:30 p.m., you're leaving your son's graduation, you get the call, it might be time to do a weather watch or get ready. >> Yeah you know, I started started like I said, to take my wife and my, my kids home. Just for some reason, you know, I just got a feeling that you know I probably needed to get it on the works so we turned instead of going home, and I just brought them here with me and you know got to the station oh, about 5:35 or so and, you know just a few minutes before hand the emergency manager and I was watching the live radar that we have available to us here. And when we got a report of you know, a tornado on the, on radar, and it was on the western edge of town, we went ahead and sounded the sirens for a second time. And you know, we called off responses by the fire crews and you know, instructed them all to head for cover as well. And then just a few minutes later we started getting reports of you know, damage and debris and. and, you know, the tornado hit the western side of town. >> So it, it came from the west and, the, Joplin's kind of a rectangular city. >> Yeah. >> And it literally was almost dead center, just a little bit south of dead center as it looks on the maps and just started coming through. >> Right. So, so you're, you're here. >> Yes. >> Physically here, whi, which is downtown. >> Right. >> And just a little bit north of the storm line, the storm line's about. >> Right. >> A, a half-mile, quarter-mile. >> Right. >> Little bit off. So you're, you're here with, with the, sta, and you have a crew here with two engines and [CROSSTALK] >> We just, wi, they, they were on a ladder truck. >> A ladder truck [INAUDIBLE] >> Yeah. >> So you have the crew here. >> Mm-hm. >> So as it starts to come through, what was the first major. Part of Joplin is at the hospital out there, is it St. John is the first major, >> Yeah, it actually touched out one of our neighborhoods on the west side of town actually almost right on top of the site where we're getting ready to build the, a new fire station, fire station 6, >> Wow. >> And progressed west through town. It really intensified once it got to about [UNKNOWN] you know road that's here in town, which is once again on the west side of town. And really intensified once it got to Maiden lane, which is where Saint John's hospital is and where my fire station number two is. So there's currently five fire stations >> mm hmm >> you're planning a sixth. >> Right. >> You're you're on duty strength is about 22 23 men. >> 24 is what a shift is and then of course we typically have some vacations and stuff in there so. >> And your total strength chief is? >> 80. >> 80 men and women okay. So you have 80 men and women available to you. you, you right now you've got 24 on duty. This horrible tornado is bearing down on the city. You've got your people under cover. What happens next? You're here. What do you start hearing? What's? >> Well, probably the next thing that we hear is the crew from fire station two call in stating that they've been hit by the tornado and that, >> and that their engine is of course out of service and the station has been destroyed. >> Destroyed. >> Destroyed. >> Now how did they stay safe? Where were they? What kept them safe? >> Well, it's a station that was built back in the 80s and you know, once again, type 5 or wood frame construction, you know they got into an interior restroom in the captain's bedroom and. Area. Basically the four of them hunkered down in the shower with a couple of mattresses over them as the tornado basically disassembled the building >> Wow. Wow. God Bless Them. And the survived. >> They survived without a scratch on them >> Without a scratch on them. So you've got these four firefighters out there that their engines are disabled but their ok. >> Right >> So the radios are still working. Absolutely. You know, we just installed a new digital 800 trunk system back probably a couple three years ago, and it performed flawlessly throughout the event. >> So, now you've got reports station 2 has been hit. You know that much. >> Right. >> You know your men are okay. >> Right. >> And I don't mean to use men. pejoratively men and women whatever they were. >> Right. >> But so your crew is good and you're still here. At that point, had the tornado come all the way through yet or was it - - were they reporting in early? >> They were reporting in early. Of course they were, they're on the far west edge of town, so. They were reporting them very early as tornado was still progressing through town at that time. >> And give us an idea for those of us I I currently live in Tulsa Oklahoma so I'm starting to learn about tornadoes I'm from New York City kid so and we actually what how to safe room put into our house before your tornado. After your tornado three people in my neighborhood put in safe rooms and I'm like god bless you for that. And routinely during storms our neighbors will show up at our home. >> Mm hmm. >> Cause they know we have one and I always tell them only fits eight people and shortly after your tornado we had like 20 neighbors show up so it was an interesting storm and after that everyone decided to get their own but the. The men are safe you're safe this tornado so what I"m trying to get to is how big is a tornado's footprint. In other words people picture tornado's as being very isolated. But this thing is up to a mile wide >> right >> and so what's the circumference is like a mile is it like diameter of a mile you think is it. Is that how it works? >> Yeah, I think at it's widest point it was probably about a mile, a mile in width and the damage pass was, was at least a mile for most of it through, through the center of town. You know the actual, I guess what you would call the catastrophic devastation area, was about. Eight to ten blocks wide at its widest part in town. For the majority of town it was probably about six to seven blocks wide. >> But you're not a mile or even, say, you know, eight blocks a half mile. You're not outrunning that in a car. >> Oh, no. >> It's just, if, if, if you're in the path of that, that's. >> Yeah. And [CROSSTALK] >> speed on the ground chief what does it do there. >> And they were talking about how slow moving this one is most tornadoes that come through the midwest are fairly quick moving or rapid moving you know 50 60 70 miles per hour but the mileage I've heard on this one is 20 to 25. >> So this things just lumbering through. Correct. >> And, and the winds speeds were? >> Over 200 miles an hour as all the weather service will tell us. You know, we, we saw several things that are just, you know, incredible to believe. You know, we saw vehicles wrapped, literally, wrapped all the way around trees and touching you know, each other on the, you know, the two ends on the other side. >> Bump, bumper to bumper. Wrapped around. >> Yeah, bumper to bumper, wrapped around trees. You know, we saw two by fours in pieces of wood or,or other materials that were, were drove through homes concrete walls. We had one two by four we found, that we've got a picture of, that was had actually been drove through a street curb, a concrete street curb. And penetrated it you know, probably five to six feet thorough. >> Holy, goodness. >> I know at my house when I finally got out there a few days later I found a curtain rod that had completely penetrated the, the exterior wall of my home. And I'm talking you know, a little small metal curtain rod that had penetrated through a two by four you know, insulated wall. On home and completely through into, into the sheet rock You know, there was about, it was probably about six foot long. About two foot was hanging out the outside. And about three foot was inside. And then the rest of it was in the walls. So. >> So here's this mile-wide monster with two hundred a mile an hour winds. It's just devastated station four. Coming through the city >> Yup >> And you're hunkered down here with your wife and kids. >> Yeah >> What are you hearing now? How does this thing progress? >> Well, of course you know, we heard that station 2 had been hit, so we got you know, we've got the confirmed tornado on the ground. We've got the confirmed damage. You know, from our emergency plans, it's obvious that you know we're going to need assistance. And so you know, at this point and time we don't know that's it's you know, the half mile or mile wide we don't know how far it's gonna go but I get my battalion chief that was on duty that day to start calling for mutual aid from our neighboring departments you know, my emergency manager starts setting up the eoc and contacting department heads. and, you know, basically start calling back folks to get them in so we could start to handle and respond to the incident. >> So phones were still working or was it mostly cell phones and things at that point? >> No, phones were still working. Cell phones were doing okay outside of the damage area. You know within the damage area of course once again the cellphones for the first 24, 48 hours were pretty much useless. You had some texting ability but as far as voice conversations for about two to three days you just didn't have. >> Because all the towers are gone. >> Because all the towers were gone, and all the power is down to the towers that are left, so. >> Wow. But surely after that, I had, pretty much as soon as two had said they'd been hit, and had been destroyed, I told my battalion chief I was gonna go out and just check on the two crew, make sure they were okay, kinda survey that, and then start a quick windshield survey. >> Windshield survey. >> You know, the extent of the, you know first thing that we had to do is figure out. You know, how bad have we been hit? You know, how long is this thing? How bad is it in, in what are our capabilities that are left? And so I head, for, for Station 2. >> Now were both your kids with you or? >> Yes, both of them. >> So you knew your family was here? >> Yep. I knew the family was here and was safe and my wife and son had actually seen believe they saw the tornado go past they were down trying to get some cell phone reception to warn family members and they believe they actually saw the tornado progress through town. So >> wow so then what do you do you're out I can't and for folks that. Haven't been here. I can't imagine what was going through your mind when you hit 20th street. >> Well, when I pulled up to station two, I, you know I was obviously shocked at the damage and and the destruction. You know, we had two engines and a, and a brush rig at that that station One of the engines in the brush rig were completely buried under the rubble of Station 2. There was a white car sitting out in front of the driveway, which, I guess, had actually been driving down the street had gotten lifted up and blown into the station, actually impacted the fire station. When the crew, you know, basically, when the tornado had passed and the crew came out of their there's shelter, they walked out and looked in it and there was four people in it, and >> Did they survive or? >> They did survive. The crew got them out, treated them, quickly and, you know grabbed the pick up truck that, I can't remember if it was one of there or if it was you know someone driving by and transported them down to the hospital. >> So the hospital is still up and running. At the, the hospital got back up and running or? >> Well, no, actually the hospital pretty much was devastated once again. You know, very few, if any, windows left in it all, of course, all of the electrical power was down. The emergency generator was on that north side of the building, so it was down. It was, it had been destroyed. There was several gas leaks in the building you know they were in a pretty rough way. When the first when the first folks got there but transported them over to the other hospital which is a quarter mile away and and got them to some care. And then the rest of the crew >> so these guys are improving grab a pick up truck [CROSSTALK] keep these people stablished and start moving them. So these are. You know, when people talk about >> Um-hm. >> Writing protocols and policies and procedures, you can't foresee that kind of thing. >> Yeah. You can't. And you know, I've been asked probably a dozen times, you know, did you follow your emergency plan? And you know, I'd love to say, yes we did. But no we didn't. I mean, this was not written into the emergency plan. You know, we never planned on losing a Level II Trauma Center, you know, and having it just completely devastated, losing two fire stations [CROSSTALK] >> Right. That would be, that would be part of the plan. >> Exactly. >> We're gonna use this Level II Trauma Station. >> Yeah, we're gonna transport people to, to these two facilities and, you know, basically, that was just wiped off the map. >> Now I heard, and just for a segue for a second, that it was actually moved on its foundation. Is that true? I don't believe it was actually moved. In talking with the engineers that I've talked to with FEMA and, and the hospitals, you know dealt with. I believe it was more twisted. It got kind of a torsion load put on it than turned about four inches. >> Still turning the building four inches that's. >> And you know, it's it's probably. >> That's a stout building. >> Absolutely. You know, compared to the building we're in right now. Which is a former civil defense fallout shelter. With you know, three foot thick floors and walls to withstand a nuclear blast. That was probably the second strongest building in town. You know probably our only true type one construction building in town, and it, let's say it just devastated that building, so. >> Wow. >> So, so you're out there with the crew of station two. They're >> Yeah. >> They're tr, triage and treating people as they can. On the fly >> Right. >> Were they able to get any of their equipment operational or are they just completely - - their equipment is just completely - - >> Well we were able to dig out one of the engines. It had been damaged and, but we were still able to dig it out and get it into service. It didn't look very good, but it was operational and we did run out of it for about three to four days until we could get some replacements into town. So, we, we did at least have that one available to us for that, for that first few critical hours. >> How, how long, give us a sense of how long, it was moving about 20 miles per hour, it's 5:40 in the evening, when did it, about how, what time was it when it lifted off and you were able to get in and. Start to take a look at things. How, how long was that? What time, what, about what time of the evening would you be out at, out there on the west side? >> You know probably about six o'clock is when when we, we actually, you know I got the two crews started and I got to, to start on the wind chilled survey of it. And so about 20 minutes after the initial touchdown >> so you still had about two hours of daylight to >> about two to two and a half hours of daylight to try to get a survey done and you know get some responses started. >> And and give us a sense of how do you do that I mean how do you. As the fire chief. >> [SOUND] >> How do you, you know, I mean, that's. >> I, i. >> That's the [LAUGH] >> Well i, i. >> The cleansing. >> It's that rough. >> Yeah. >> And it's, you know, it's one of those things, and once again, it's one of those things I've probably been asked a hundred times of, you know, where do you start and, and that's just it. There's so many places to start, you just have to pick somewhere. >> Right. >> And you know, for, for us, being you know, five stations, five vehicles. You know, we've got call-in crews comin' back in and we've got mutual aid partners comin'. but, you know, once again, even with everybody that's within 30 miles of me just showing up instantaneously, I still don't have enough people to deal with everybody that needs assistance. And it's >> Right. Typical crisis response. You, you don't have enough folks early on. >> Right. >> And then soon you have. What more folks than, than you really want. >> Right. >> And not that you can, you can manage them but, it did, becomes a point where you have to tell people okay, hang on a second here. >> Well, things, things don't, you know, once you get to theat point, things don't move as quickly as what people wanna do, when you wanted to do. >> Right. >> Then in myself included yeah we wanted to move through this very quick, we wanted to be very responsive to the citizen's needs and,. You know once you do get that number of crews and you know helpers it it does take you a while to get them tasked out to you know and effective manner and in a pattern that you can you know you can check off homes and structures. >> And the weather wasn't cooperating like a lot of people picture tornado's then the sun comes out then it's a normal day. Yeah. >> But you were hit with, you were inundated with several storms for several days after this. >> Yeah, we were in, you know, we, we dealt with rain probably for the first, 30 to 45 minutes following the, the tornado. And then it did clear off, for that night and, through part of the next day. You know that next day we started getting reports of severe weather headed our way. And once again we went under tornado warnings two separate times the following night. And you, you know, once again you, you think OK I've gotten hit by this thing and now you know, we need that we need that break in the clouds if you will to, to give us time to to help folks, and to try to recover. And. Just didn't happen. >> Now so so you the tornado has come through you're doing the windshield survey you're crews are reporting back into the operations chief and setting up your EOC and calling mutual aid and doing all the normal things we would do. How how many surface rescues anecdotally do you think your folks performed that first evening because it must have. Done hundreds. >> Yeah and you know, that's the bad part is you know, during those first few hours you, you wanna try to capture as much of the information as you can. And you, you know I don't believe that we're gonna ever know truly how many were actually performed. But between you know, the fire, the police, the EMS crews that came into town to assist us. You know in that first 12 to 24 hour period, I would have to say literally you know hundreds if not thousands of surface rescues and, and you know aid was given to the walking wounded or the or even some of the more severe wounded you know, not only did the the emergency response community but the citizens in town,. You know, we're transporting people in pickup trucks or cars, or just whatever they had available. You know, trying to get them to either triage areas that we had set up throughout the city or to the hospitals. Or you know, th, just some sort of a, of a place where they could get care that they, that they needed because of the injuries from the storm. Well I was amazed, we arrived Monday morning about 10 am, how many of the streets you had cleared. >> Right. >> I mean, clearly you're public works department did an outstanding job... >> Yeah. >> Of clearing the roads because, you know, the emergency responders and the traffic was moving well and you're law enforcement people did and exemplary job because the. Every intersection had officers at it who >> Yeah. >> were managing the traffic flow and doing >> Yup. >> a wonderful job. And you, we saw a lot of your mutual aid crews. And a lot of your folks >> Mm-hm >> working. Trying to do searches. >> Right. >> So, how do you, if you give us a sense that night starts to fall. >> Mm-hm. >> You recognize your your Been hit by an incredible act of nature. >> Mh-hm. >> How many homes, you know now exactly. >> Mh-hm. >> But how many homes, to give people a sense I mean it's a third of the community. >> Right. >> How many homes? You know, what we're hearing now from FEMA is and from our, from our planners and and our building staff is right around 8 8,000 living structures. So you know, that's homes and apartments, individual apartments. So you know, if you will, we've got, you know, over 8,000, cuz obviously a lot of those have more than one person living there. As a matter of fact. For the city what they estimated was about two and a half people per structure so if you take that you know you've got 16 18000 people displaced. >> And then there's nursing homes and places where your densities much higher >> exactly. >> My goodness and churches and everything else. >> Yep once again this was a Sunday night not only are we in the middle of tornado alley but we're in the bible belt. Religious and. >> Sure. >> God-fearing, you know, population and you know. >> Evening services. Yeah. 5, 5, 5 o'clock 5:30 evening services. >> Yeah. So a lot of people were either on their way to or were at church. You know, of course with the high school graduation on, a significant amount of the population was out there. You know, there was some. Four to 5,000 people at the graduation ceremonies. >> So do you think that helped you, chief? In terms of having some folks, you know. It was a high school area. The notifications went out twice. So, did the people at the high school get those notifications as well? Did they know what was going on? >> Luckily graduation was out at a college. A local university that was on the north part of town so. The high school was actually empty at the time which was once again a blessing for and for the community, you know. >> Did it get devastated or? >> Yes. The high school's been destroyed. Suffered significant damage and as well as a technical school that's next door to it, so, you know if we would have been having the graduation ceremonies there. You know I think the death toll would have probably been significantly higher than what it currently is. So, you know a little bit of luck that rode along with us that night. And you know I'm very glad that that graduation was over. You know at Missouri southern instead of at the high school. >> So that the, that helped keep some folks out of harms way. And then the warnings that went out and it was some stuff on the MSNBC and some of the major networks where they implied that folks may have ignored the warnings but I don't think that's I don't think no disrespect to east coast folks I was raised there. But I don't think they understand what people do to take cover here >> right >> in the midwest people took cover as best they could this was just a storm of unimaginable power. >> That's right and you know I living in the midwest you know tornado warm and thunder storm warnings are pretty much a daily routine. >> A way of life. >> It is it's a way of life it's just like if you live on the coast with hurricanes. You know it's a very common, very common occurrence for the folks in Florida. And you know, the the gulf, and and atlantic coast. You know, around here it's not unusual. You know in the, the weeks since then we've probably had twenty different, thunderstorm warnings. Since then and and probably about six or seven tornado warnings have been issued since May 22nd. So its a, its a, very normal motive life for the mid west in any other communities around here. To say that people ignore the warning I, I don't know if that would be fair to say but once again there they are very much about of normal life. >> Right. You know, did the warning send, that first warning at about 20 to 25 minutes before the storm impacted us. Did people start scrambling for cover then, and I think that the obvious answer is no. >> Well, and I think that people need to understand, too, when a tornado warning comes out. They don't say it's going to go down you know, between 3rd Street and 20th Street and it, it, it, but it's not that precise. >> Yep. Yeah. >> So it, it, the warning is just basically to raise your awareness level. >> Mm-hm. >> So folks do, they make sure the water in the, in the plaza or wherever they're gonna take cover and. That they, you know. >> Sure. >> It's, it's to give people an awareness level. It's not a, it's not a specific because. >> Right. >> And with tornado. >> Mm-hm. >> e, even if you knew it was coming, it's a, it's, it's a mile wide. >> Exactly. >> Where are you gonna go? >> Exactly. And you know the second warning that was about three minutes before the tornado struck the city. You know with talking with folks afterwards you know, that first warning everybody was aware. They started watching the weather and those type of things. The second one, I I heard, you know, numerous more people were headed for cover and taking shelter. But once again the weather had deteriorated significantly obviously in those 20 minutes, just the first one. >> You said your so-, your son and your, your wife thought they saw it. >> Mm hm. >> And and, I've, I've never seen one. >> Mm hm, neither have I [LAUGH]. >> Yeah, which is. Because people always ask me, what what does it look like. How would they describe it because of what I've heard is that it just looks like really, dark, cloud, and it's. >> and, and that's pretty much they just described it as a, as a dark shadow that was moving across town. >> Wow. >> So You know of course they were extraordinarily scared when they saw it, and, I can, I can only imagine I mean it it g- it had to be you know extremely terrifying. << Ordeal to either see it, number one, or to actually live through it, than to be in it. << Just to be as you are, the Fire Chief, and responsible for all these good folks, and all these gas leaks now and you're doing your windshield survey. Now you had two fire stations that were impacted, isn't that correct? << That's right. Shortly after getting out the two and checking on them, of course we'd heard from Fire station 4 that they'd been hit and. Once again, their vehicles were destroyed as well. And you know that you know. It was a significant impact to us. And it definitely hampered our response capabilities. You know, I. Got ahold of our caption and our battalion chief on the radio from station four, and their vehicle was inoperable. And so we just basically, you know, salvaged some of the MS equipment, and the rescue equipment that we could. Threw it in one of the personal pickups of a captain. Actually ended up being destroyed as well and just driving it to different sites where we had people trapped and trying to effect rescues so. >> Now after you did the windshield survey and you knew what you were up against how to start to formulate in your mind what you were up against where did you go after that? EOC or where did you report in. >> Yeah we came back to the EOC and during that windshield survey I'd gotten ahold of the city manager We have met up up on Main Street about the middle of the devastation and actually he and I performed a few rescues of our own while we were out doing the window survey. >> Wow. >> When I pull on some folks out to some basements and then out of the collapsed church as we were doing the >> I never say anything better about seeing a manager again, [LAUGH]. He was a real trooper. >> Was he? >> And, and you know, he got thrust into some situations that he's not used to dealing with. >> Sure. >> And, and you know, I think he had told me that it was the first time he'd actually seen folks that have been deceased you know, without being through like a mortuary's handling or, or whatever. >> Right, right real true victims. >> The, the true victims and You know we saw, we saw dozens that night, and, and I know its affected him, and, and you know he asks us, you know how do you guys do that and you know it it just unfortunately its a part of the job. And and you know the job requirements for, for the fire service [UNKNOWN] police deceive that. And, yeah I think he's got a much better understanding of what we do and what we deal with and so. I feel bad for putting them in that situation but at the same point in time I think we we affected you know? We rescued several folks from I said from a couple of basements and and from a church that had collapsed on some people. >> Uh-huh. >> So It was it was also you know, a good part of our, out survey and but once we got done with that, we did come back down here. We laid out a basic path of the storm and started getting out GIS folks to draw in us some maps and some Some grids. To start getting some grid searches set up, so you know, within about an hour, hour and a half of the storm, you know we had a general path of the tornado. We had a general area that was effected and we had you know a grid plan getting set up via our GIS folks to get out to the responders. So we start to get some kind of, you know a. you, you know, some sort of order to the search patterns and, and to where we've been and where we still needed to go. >> It reminds me when you're talking now John Hanson is a great friend of mine in Oklahoma city went through the devastating F5 that went. >> Mm-hm. >> Right through the heart of it. And like you John lost his home. >> Mm-hm. >> Lost everything. And he said initially, it windshield surveys, surface recuse. >> Right. >> Trying to access what to do we have here. What do we need. What's our, what's our what's our damage and what's our, what's our plan going to be. >> Right. >> And for you it's got to be even more. Intricate in a way, because for the Oklahoma City people, lots more resources. Much contoured vicin. Joplin Missouri is a rolling, hilly area. A lot of people picture the midwest as all flat, like Illinois, Indiana, and corn fields. Right. >> This is a very contoured city with beautiful hills. >> Mm-hm. >> And little valleys, so you, you really needed to drive those 14 miles in order to understand. >> Right. >> What had happened. So you've done that and you're back here. Now, the City Manager assumes the role of Incident Commander, or how did, how do you operationalize from that point? >> Pretty much what we did is of course he was, you know, as the City Manager he's in charge of the overall city. >> Right. He's the final, he's the final call. >> Right. But you know, he turned to to me basically and you know asked, what do we do? >> Right. You know What's that incident command thing you've been talking about? >> Exactly you, you know and that's I was talking with Greg Gaines from the U.S. Fire Administration yesterday. And you know, I told him, I said you know, I just completed my EFO certification. And I told him I said you know, when I was up at Emmetsburg in my third year going through [UNKNOWN]. I'm sitting there thinking. Boy you know, we'll never do anything like this and that you know, that's some words I've ate now because But that was an extraordinary helpful class and I was so glad that I had been through it because it did help me think ahead to not only what I needed to do in the next 12 to 24 hours, but what I needed to do past that and you know, what resources I needed to get started towards you know, towards the city. And you know, so we sat down and basically on a white board with the department heads we had in, which was about half of them at that time started to outline, you know, what are our first immediate needs and, and you know, of course the first one was search rescue and medical care for you know, the citizens that were effected. You know secondly was getting some sort of a coordinated search to go house to house to to search those homes that were affected. And then third it was to start providing you know shelter for the the citizens that had lost their homes but were okay. >> Potentially 16 of the 20000 people. >> Exactly you know started trying to get them sheltered and so. We started with that initial list and then moved on from there. I think once we saw the level of devastation in the, probably, four to five miles we drove, it was obvious that we were going to have a significant amount of injuries. It was obvious we were gonna have a significant amount dead. And it was obvious that you know this had outgrown not only our local capabilities of our local you know department and our normal mutual aid partners, but it had outgrown our regional planning and probably our state planning. Because of just the number of. Effected residents, individual and just the, the, the, amount of devastation. I mean it just, you know, you go out and you go to search the stuff it's not just like lifting up something and looking under it. You know this is intertwined you know, just, you know. Locked together debris >> right it's not a collapse in any kind of traditional it's not structural collapse from some faulty component or even fire damage where you can get pancakes and lean tos this is a like a blender. >> Yeah and that's exactly what I've heard it called it's just like taking you know oh gosh you know a 16 and a half mile long mile wide section of a city throwing everything into a blender and hitting liquefy. >> And it's very heartening to hear you say my EFO training my emergency preparedness classes that I took came into play and made a signficant difference because. Oftentimes, people ask us, why do you train so much. >> Right. >> Why is that so important? And I tell them, you have to train every day, because of problems like this. No one could foresee the types of rescues your folks would have to perform, you know, crimping gas lines which I'm sure they had to do. You can't. There's no more just isolated problems it's not it's everyone has to become a Macgyver of a sorts >> exactly >> and that requires training innovation confidence and the ability to act without permission which is great we were speaking earlier about did we follow the plan. The best plan is to have well trained people and trust them. >> E, exactly, and, you know, that's what I was talking with, you know, yesterday when, you know, Chief Gaines called and I told him, I said, you know, I think that the, the thing that contributed the most to the sec, to the successes that everyone are telling us that we had here. Is the fact that you know, not only in my department but in other departments around this within our region, and within the city, in within our city leadership. We have the right people in the right jobs, performing the right work. And and that was just. So critical to wha, what we've been able to do here in the last five weeks since the storm and I can within my department I knew that once I got my deputy chief, my operations chief my, battalion chief you know, lined out on where I wanted to go that I didn't need to to, to, check on them or micromanage them. I knew them, I trusted them. And I, counted on them to, get the task done. And and that freed me up to to look at the larger picture of, okay they're taking care of the hero now, where are we gonna be 12 hours from now or 24 hours from now or 48 hours from now. It allowed me to do that future planning, to get them, resources, and equipment, and And get their needs taken care of when, when those times came. So, it, it was, it was extraordinarily valuable to, to have those well trained and, and and, once again, those people that were able to improvise and respond to the incident and because once, you know, like you say, there's, there's no way you can predict this, there's no way you can even, you know, the human mind, I don't think, can imagine an event like this. And you got to just be in kinda reaction mode. You know if your looking for everything written out in a plan it wasn't there, and I can't produce it. >> Right. >> And you know we there are a lot of what we were doing was reacted by what we knew and needed to do, and what we knew what was right to do and then and what in heaven knows those people that Were capable, that were well trained, and that were trusted to do the job. I think, not only within my department, but within the city and within the region really are the ones that spell the success to this. More so than just my role. I mean, I've been the very public figure of fire response here in town. But that's it. I mean, I, I, I honestly, you know, depended, counted, on, on all of the folks, not only within my department but, but regionally, you know, we've been working on regional planning, for events and, and with other departments, both Springfield Missouri, Branson Missouri, we've, we've worked regionally since, you know 2002 and all of that planning all of that time getting to know folks and getting to know capabilities really payed off in this even. >> Having good neighbors and good relationships with those neighbors really is the is the key and I think >> absolutely >> one of the things we talk about all the time when we talk about training is one of the most critical we develop in training is trust for one another. And I think it was Demarka Pecus said four break men do not know each other well won't attack a lion but for less brave men mutually assured of each others reliability and trust knowing each other will attack resolutely so developing those relationships is so critical and you see these some departments that are silos we're not gonna need anybody's help. That's That's a bad plan. And you guys fortunately didn't have that mindset. >> Right. >> Joplin's a very warm community to begin with, but your organization and you obviously, and your men and women are those kinds of folks too. >> Yeah. >> You know, you're very warm, very open, very gracious people and so I think that. That probably, played a lot into how well things went, and things did go well. I mean, we we arrived at 8 o'clock in the morning, and it was a bee hive of activity. And all those bees were either wearing yellow gear or black gear, and they were going through the buildings one by one, and markings were on the buildings. And, this is less than 12 hours after, maybe 14 hours after you had been hit. And so much work had already been done. It was just amazing to see. And, and I think the training aspect there is, is huge. And and, it really, it really came through. Let's talk a minute about your men and women, cuz I think it's important that folks know, four of your folks besides yourself, so five total, or. >> Three, three besides me. >> Three, lost everything. >> That's correct. homes are gone. >> Yes. >> So, right now, you guys are living in temporary conditions and temporary >> Yeah. You know either with friends or family, or you know have gotten a rental of some sort. You know, kind of like with me, I'm in a duplex right now. A fairly small duplex compared to. You know, the size of our home before, so. >> So, you're, you're looking down the barrel of a week that, that 10 days of nonstop work- >> Mm-hm. >> And your wife has to, and your children, have to figure out, where we're gonna sleep? >> Right. >> How, how do you manage that, Chief? >> Well. [LAUGH] You know, the first couple three nights, we, basically, my office was our home. And my wife and kids stayed in there with me. And you know it's not a big office. It's maybe 15 by 15 and, and you know the four of us were sleeping and basically using that as our home. >> Wow. >> You know after a, after about the third or fourth day, you know they moved to be with my sister and live in her basement. For about another week and You know lucky one of the county commissioners had a duplex that came open and available. And you know, we were able to move into it. You know. Basically call a place, you know, somewhere that we could, we could live. My daughter keeps telling me, she goes this is not home. This is not home. And you know it's one of those things that You know it's the, the way home that my my two kids have known and, is the house that we lived in and You know we've been, we've basically lived there since they were born and, and so they don't know anything else. >> Right. >> So then, you know, that's why she was saying that, and, you know it's very much the same with With my, my crews as well that lost their home. You know, both of them had been their for you know, some, some time and, and you know they all had families, to, to look after and children to look after as well and so you know, after the first initial 12 hours of so you know, my first concern was to get them out of here and to get them home to take care of. You know, those personal issues. And, and we did that the next morning. They had all reported to work. Or they were either at work or reported to work, with the general call in. But that next morning, once we got through that first push and got, you know, the service rescues and those types of things done, I got them out of here so they could take care of their, their home life, and get, You know get their loved ones taken care of. >> With a hundred and fifty three dead and thousands injured, how, how do you, how do your men and women doing? How is your department doing? Did you do anything special? Did you bring in counseling? Or is it, or are they just using churches and you know how are they >> Mm-hm. You, you must have known dozen's of those good folks. >> Mh-hm. >> These are their neighbors and their cousins, and relatives, I mean. >> Yeah you, you know, we kinda used a, a variety of different methods for, for the crews. you, you know we've had some actual debriefing with you know, some pastors that are you know, fire department specific trained and. I think those were, were attended by a few, you know, most have sought their own, either counseling or, or, or, debriefings through their own churches. Like I've said, Joplin is a very religious community. And so everybody, I think everybody's been kind of. >> But that's important, I think that that's an important point and if faith. It's it's amazing how important faith is in, in disasters, and how important faith is, I think, to the fire service as a whole. To people who do, like your city manager, to see that amount of death, people who a half hour earlier were coming home from church, or coming home from the store, getting ready to make Sunday dinner. Dead, gone. Whole families in so in some cases. >> Yeah. >> Lost and some of the folks literally lost. Just gobble up by this horrible at of nature. Gone. You have to, you have to believe in more that just. The temporal, you have that faith. >> You have to believe in more than anything than yourself. I mean >> Sure. >> You know I think that's what's kept kept our department going and, and >> You need to be overly really, I am, I'm very religious and I know, >> Yup. >> Many firefighters are, and I think it helps me, I know it helped me in my career, and I think that living in a place like Joplin where,. Well, you do have plenty of pastors. >> Mm-hm. >> And reverends and priests and that, that you can talk to. >> Right. >> And those people are trained. >> Yeah. And I agree. I, it's like I say, it's about being more than just you, but it's more than about the individual. And >> Survivors guilt. >> Exactly. >> Your, your home is a block off the path of the tornado and you're fine and folks you've known for your whole life are gone. >> Yeah. And, so I think it does. It's gotta help and I mean, you know, I think that the, you know, good majority of the fire fighters here are. You know very, very religious in nature, and I think that it does give them strength to move on from these things. >> I think it's important. I hope that the folks listening, the young people running academies, we should encourage it. And not promote Episcopalians or catholics or whatever you happen to be. Promote faith. Tell people if you have faith. Hang on to it. If you don't, take a look at it. It's something, believe in something even if you go to unitarian churches or whatever you wanna do, but believe in something greater than yourself. >> Absolutely, and I think that, anyone in the fire service or public service needs to remember that. It's, it's about more than just the individual. It's not about me. It's about the community, it's about the bigger picture. You know it's about, you know, what we can do for others. And, and I think that that religious belief, religious feeling plays into that very well. And it's about service and you know, when, when you talk to any of the major religions as you say and you know, whether, you know, the, you know, regardless of what your, your individual belief is. You know it's all about service to others. And, and about about sac, self sacrifice, and I mean if there's anything that, that says the fire service that's it. >> That's exac, that could make a good EFO paper. >> [LAUGH]. >> If anybody out there's going through EFO right now. >> Yeah. >> That would faith in its, faith in its role in the fire service, or its impact in fire service. >> Right. >> So how is, it's, it's now four weeks. Going on five. >> Five. Four and a half, five weeks. How is Joplin right now, and how do your predict the recovery to, how long do you think the recovery is going to go, and what are the plans of your department for your organization? >> You know, I think that if you look out in the community. You know there's still a huge amount of volunteers coming in and lending a hand and you still see neighbors helping neighbors and I think it's fantastic to see. You know if you look at the amount of destruction and devastation I don't think you can look at it and say hey in six months we're gonna be fine. I think everybody knows that's not going to be the case >> It's got to be a 20 year plan really. >> Exactly and you know that's early on I had some folks asking about you know what are you going to do about replacing fire stations and fire trucks and those types of things and I said you know, and I believe this that you know not only for the fire service you know what I'm deciding with the fire service and. But it's what the city manager and the council and our planners are deciding about the community. We're not affecting this year or next year or you know, the next several months. You know, I'm looking 50 years into the future. Where do I need to be? Where is this department moving? You know, what are the pieces of apparatus we're gonna need in the future? You know, because we have this, while it's been a horrible event we have this opportunity to, you know, misplaced fire stations. If we have a fire station that's a duplication and, and can be moved into a better area to serve the community better, now's the time. >> Right. >> You know, if we're looking at, switching to a different type of vehicle, or, duh, different capabilities, once again now's the time. >> You have discretionary time now to make decisions. Based upon long range planning, where >> Exactly. >> Sometimes, as a city grows, it's just, a fire station seemed like a good idea in 1960, but in 2010, not such a good idea. >> Right. >> Either, either the demographics didn't work out the way they had predicted, so you do have an opportunity to move some equipment if it's appropriate to do so. >> Right. And, and that's what we're looking at now for the fire department is we're looking at You know where, where the city is projected to grow, where we're headed, where we have grown since the, you know since these stations were build, built and put in place. So we, you know, we are look, we are taking that all in consideration. You know I think the other thing, you know the city right now has a moratorium on residential construction. And, once again, it's to look at those issue, you know, do we want to build everything back to 1940s standards and I think that, you know, the first, the first reaction of everybody is, well, we need to be rebuilding, and, and I don't disagree. But, we need to do it smart and we need to do it with some thought and some planning. And I don't think anyone would want us just to go back and put back exactly what was there. You know I think they would want us to look at improvements and you know, to consider you know, you know basically the future and the next 50 to 100 years when we're planning neighborhoods and facilities and public services. You know, we can't just turn a blind eye to the future because before we know it, that future will be here, and we'll be living in it. >> And this is a great place to live. This is an incredible part of the United States if you haven't been into, I guess this is western southwestern Missouri, this is gorgeous country. >> Yeah. >> A breathtaking country. >> Yeah. >> What is the. What is the Joplin Fire Department need? People want to do things for you. >> Right. >> People keep talking about this. What does Joplin really need and what does the Joplin Fire Department really need? >> Well, you know, I think - - >> What would help? >> You know, right now, we're still working on the interim settlements and those type of things from the destroyed stations and. The apparatus and those types of things and so you know, we do, we currently have you know, loaner stations that are going up right now by the Army Core of Engineers that are being built as we speak and we hope to be occupying those by the end of the week. You know, we've got loaner equipment from you know, Pierce and Rosen Bower and. Mid america fire equipment here in the state. And, and The Department of Conservation has helped us out with some vehicles. And so right now where that goes we're, we're doing pretty well. you, you know, I, I think the thing that's gonna come out in the, in the future is gonna be the overall cost of this this disaster. You know, they they typically talk about disasters in millions of dollars. I heard very early one, billions of dollars and, you know, billions of dollars is just one of those things, until you sit down and start typing out the zeroes on a calculator- >> Right. >> Or something. You don't realize how much money that is. >> That's nine zero's that's big money. >> Yeah that's big money. And just within the fire department by the time we replace you know, fire stations and fire apparatus and, and gear that was lost, and you know, equipment. You know, we're looking at, at, at you know, probably tens of millions of dollars. Just in what we lost, in order to replace it in today's, in today's value. so, you know, some of that's gonna be covered by insurance but, obviously, not all of it. Some of it gonna be covered by FEMA but, once again, obviously, not all of it. you, you know, most of our immediate needs are met, but what we're gonna need for the, for the future rebuilding is gonna be. And I hate to sound bad about this and I, and I feel guilty even saying it but it's gonna be, it's gonna be cash. It's gonna be money, you know to pay for this new equipment, to pay for those differences between. >> Is there, is there somewhere where people can go online or something if they want to make a donation to the, to the Joplin fire department? Is there anything set up like that yet for the city of Joplin? Yeah the city does have a couple of of funds set up. And I don't think there's a fire department specific one, once again because of the way we're set up. >> Right, right. >> You know we are city so it all goes into. >> The general fund. >> The general fund. And and, and you know but so I, I did. You know, if there is one I'll get you one before we leave. >> OK cuz we were correct on that our initial report from. >> Yeah. >> All well intention but we don't need box loads of clothes. We don't need. You know what people wanted to give away. >> Right. >> We need cash. >> Right. >> And, and that's going to sustain Joplin into the future. >> Yeah, yeah most of those immediate needs were met very quickly within the first you know we or so and, and, so, so. >> And we'll put that out. We'll build that into the presentation. We'll make sure people know in the beginning and the end how they can. Contribute to support. >> True. >> So you, you're doing okay? >> You know, we're, we're trying I mean you know obviously you know my family and I are a couple of weeks behind the, the curve as you know, because of the workload that was there for the first couple of three weeks and so, we are in catch up mode, we're still sorting through what we are able to salvage from the house and, I say we,. My wife and kids were able to salvage with the help of my folks and my brothers and sisters and then several of the union members from around the region came into help us. I have to admit I salvaged very little from my house. These folks that came in did that for us so. You know, you know once again that's kind of where we are. We're waiting on some insurance settlements and, and those types of things once again and. Trying to get our lives kind of back on track and, and back to normal and you know, I guess my goal per-, on a personal level, is to give my daughter a place to call home. Well. We hope you do that real soon. And we really want to thank you for taking the time to sit down with us today and allow us to have access to your staff and, and to your city. We know that you've got much better things to do then to just sit and talk with us but we thought it was important for you to get your story out to the fire service that people could hear. What it's like and, and how important it is to, to train, to be prepared, to lead well, and, and to be ready. Eh, all over the country right now there's, the floods up in >> Yeah. >> Minot, and a horrible fire in Los Alamos again. They're being hit again with a terrible. I was there at the first Los Alamos fire and now the second ones coming. So you never know and being prepared is not just a model for American fire services it's got a be a credo something we live live by and live up to and certainly. You and your organization exceeded anyones expectations in terms of excellence and dedication and preparedness and it came through and level of professionalism that you and your troops showed was just amazing and our hearts broke when we saw the damage and they're still breaking, I think, Americas. Americans were just devastated to see such a beautiful community take such a dramatic hit but we were also heartened to see that true American values came out and you guys and gals really set a bar for the rest of the nation and we thank you for that and if there's anything we can for you at any time please don't hesitate to call [MUSIC] [BLANK_AUDIO]

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