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

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Thu, 28 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.

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[MUSIC] [BLANK_AUDIO] Hi, I'm Bobby Halton, Editor in Chief of Fire Engineering Magazine, and this afternoon we have the tremendous pleasure to be able to sit down with Fire Engine Chief Mitch Randalls from Joplin, Missouri. On May 22nd at 5:41 PM, 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 22 is going to become one of those days. Like 9/11 where incredible courage, incredible sacrifice, incredible dedication. Are 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 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 unimaginable devastation they persevered, they innovated, they created, they did what they planned to do, they did above and beyond what they planned to do. And they set an example of ___ for all of us to. To try to live up to and, for that, we thank you. And we're 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 twenty 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. Well honest to spend some time with you. >> Well, we appreciate you guys coming up and, and talking with us. >> Well, no, er, we're honored, and thank you for the time. So your family is Joplin, how many generations have been Joplin folks in the family? >> well, as far back 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 and yeah. 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 who haven't been to Joplin. It's almost picturesque. It's got a beautiful down town with the old 1940's style buildings with the ornate cornices and things of that nature. And then we had a residential district. Which unfortunately was destroyed. Beautiful homes. >> Yeah. >> What I've been telling folks to do is to go to those Google Earth pictures before. >> Mm-hm. >> So we have an idea of these picturesque neighborhoods that were just. Gorgeous. I mean its where, you know, where people would want to live, obviously. It's a great place to live. >> Right and I agree. And, 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 where the you know, basically the mining boom was going on here and you know, the city really embraces its history. >> And you can see it. You can see the buildings that have been preserved. We call America disposable nation, but there's a lot of cities in America that didn't fall prey to that and are embracing the restoration of these gorgeous buildings, these wonderful buildings. If, if you wouldn't mind and I know it's painful and we should probably tell everyone that the Chief lost his home, all your family safe though or? >> Yes they are all safe. >> So, but many, 153 people lost their lives that day. >> Yeah we're actually we're now at 158>>Hundred [CROSSTALK] >> As of this morning. 158 as of this morning so that was the deadliest tornado in the history of the United States. >> It is 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 was 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, 5:30pm, where were you, what were you doing? >> 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 weather was getting pretty bad that they were getting ready to issue tornado warnings. And and that you know, I probably needed to think about getting to work. And so as we were leaving you know, the The graduation ceremony. You know, I was gonna my my wife and my kids home. And then get in uniform and go ahead and come to the station. And you know, kinda do our normal storm routine that we, that we have when you know, events like this Well, I'm not, but things like this, but when normal weather, things happen. >> So what is it? Just to interrupt you, what is the normal storm routine? What would the men and women do? >> Well typically, our emergency manager, and a secondary chief officer would come in and monitor the weather and, you know, just. Be here to, to help our dispatchers and our on duty folks, make that decision on you know sounding storm sirens, on the, the path of the storm, and you know alerting the citizens an, and You know, just the, the the normal things that go into you know, the, the decisions that are made. By any of that the the towns in the midwest and you know, in tornado alleys. So. >> Right, right. At which the [UNKNOWN] goes from basically California to Ohio. >> Yeah. >> When I was in Boston just three or four weeks ago. Two towns were leveled by an f four. >> Yeah. >> In Boston. Springfield, Massachusetts. >> Yeah. >> So it's about 5:30 p.m. You're [UNKNOWN] son's graduation. >> Mm-hm. >> You get the call. Might be time to do a weather watch. >> Right. >> To get ready. >> Yeah you know in, [UNKNOWN] started to take my wife and my kids home. Just for some reason, you know, I just got a feeling that you know I probably need to get into work 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 beforehand the emergency manager and I were watching the library that we have available to us here. And then when we got a report of, you know a tornado on radar and it was on western edge of town and we went ahead and sounded the sirens for a second time. And 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 you know the tornado hit the western side of town. >> So it came from the west, and it, 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 [INAUDIBLE] downtown, and, and just a little bit, north of the stormline, the stormline's about a half mile, quarter mile >> Right. >> Little bit off. So, you're, you're here with, with the state and you have a crew here with two engines and >> We just went there, they run a ladder trucks. >> A ladder truck, so you have a crew here. >> Mm-hm. >> So as it starts to come through, what was the first major. Part of job [INAUDIBLE] hospital out there, is that St. John's first major? >> Yeah, it actually touched down, out in 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 a new fire station, fire station six. >> Wow. >> And progressed west through town. It really intensified once it got to about Schifferdecker, you know, road that's here in town which is once again on the west side of town. And it really intensified once it got to Maiden Lane which is where Saint John's Hospital is, and where where my Fire Station Number Two is. So there's currently five fire stations. You're planning a sixth.>> Right.>> You're on duty strength is about 22, 23 men.>> Twenty four is what it should be. And of course we have some vacations and stuff in there.>> And your total strength Chief, is?>> 80.>> Eighty men and women. Okay. So you have 80 men and women available to you. Right now you've got 24 on duty. >> Mm-hm. >> 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, what do start hearing? What's? >> Well, probably the next thing you hear is that the crew from fire station two call in stating that they've been hit by the tornado and that In that their engine is, of course out of service and the station's 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 five or wood frame construction, you know, they got into an interior restroom in the captain's bedroom and, and area in, and, basically the four of them hunkered down in a shower with, with a couple of mattresses over them, as the tornado basically disassembled the building. >> Wow, wow. God bless'em and they survived. >> They survived without a scratch on them, so. >> Not a scratch on them. >> Yep, >> So you've got these four fire fighters out there. Their engine's disabled, but they're okay. >> Right. >> So radio's are still working. Absolutely. We just installed a new digital 800 trump system back, probably a couple, three years ago. and it performed flawlessly throughout the event. >> So now you've got reports that station two has been hit, you know that much. You know your men are okay. and I don't mean to use men. [INAUDIBLE] men and women whatever they were. >> Right. >> But so you, your crew is good and, and you're still here. >> Mm-hm. >> At that point, had the tornado come all the way through yet or was it, they were reporting in early? >> They were reporting in early. Of course they were, they were on the far west edge of town, so. They were reporting in very early. Tornado was still progressing through town at that time. >> And give us an idea for those us. I, I currently live in Tulsa Oklahoma. So I'm starting to learn about tornadoes. But I'm a New York City kid and so and we actually [UNKNOWN] to our house. Before [UNKNOWN]. After a tornado, three people in my neighborhood put in safe rooms. And I was like God bless you for that. And routinely during storms, our neighbors will show up at our home cuz they know we have one. >> Mm-hm. >> And I always tell them, it only fits eight people. An, and certainly after your tornado we had like, 20 neighbors show up. >> [LAUGH] Yes. >> So it, 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, it's hard for, people picture tornadoes as being very isolated. >> Right. >> But this thing is up to a mile wide. >> Right. >> And so what's the circumference around? Is it like a mile all the way, is the diameter of it a mile you think. Is that how it works because? >> Yeah, I think at its widest point it was probably about a mile - - a mile in width and the damage path was at least a mile up for most of it 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, a block's a half mile. You're not outrunning that in a car. If you're in the path of that, that's. And and >> What's its speed on the ground, Chief? What, what did you, what does it do there? >> Well and they were talking about, how slow moving this one is, you know, most tornadoes that come through the midwest are fairly, quick moving or rapid moving ,you know 50, 60, 70 miles per hour. the, the mileage I've heard on this one is like 20 to 25 >> So this thing's just lumbering through. Correct. >> And, and the wind speeds were? >> Over 200 miles an hour is 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. >> Yeah, bumper to bumper. >> Wrapped around. >> Wrapped around trees. You know, we saw two by fours and pieces of wood or, or other materials that were drove through homes concrete walls. We had one two by four we found that we've got a picture of that was that had actually been drove through a street curb, a concrete street curb. And it penetrated five to six feet through. >> Oh geesh. >> I know at my house, when I finally got there a few days later, I found a curtain rod that completely penetrated the exterior wall of my home. And I'm talking about those little small metal curtain rod that penetrated through a two by four insulated wall. << On a home and completely into the sheet rock. Now there it was, about 6 ft long, about 2 ft was hanging out the outside, about 3 ft was inside, and the rest of it was in the wall. << So here's this mile wide monster, with 200 mph winds, it's just devastated Station 4. Coming through the city, >> Yeah. >> And, and you're, you're hunkered down here with your wife and kids, >> Yeah. >> What, what starts hap- what, what are you hearing now, how, how's this thing progress? >> Well of course, you know, we heard that Station Two had been hit, so we got the, 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 gonna need assistance. And so at this point in time, we don't know that it's, the half mile or mile wide. We don't know how far it's going to go. But I get my battalion chief that was on duty that day to start calling for mutual aid from neighboring departments. My emergency manager starts setting up the EOC and contacting department heads. And you know basically start start calling back folks, to get them in, so we could start, to handle and, 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 the damage area. You know, within the damaged area, of course, once again, the cell phone for the first 24 to 48 hours were pretty much, useless, you had some texting ability but as far as voice conversations for about 2 to 3 days [CROSSTALK] >> Because all the towers were gone. >> Because all the towers were gone. And all the power is gone for the towers that are left, so. >> Wow. But shortly after that, pretty much as soon as 2 had said they'd been hit, had been destroyed, I told my battalion Chief I was going to go out and check on the 2 crew, make sure they were ok, kind of survey that, and then start a quick windshield survey of the extent. Because first we had to figure out was. Now how bad have we been hit, you know? How long is this thing, how bad is it? And what are our capabilities that are left and uh...so I head for Station 2... Now were both your kids with you? Yes, both of them were with me. So you knew your family was here. Yes, I knew the family was here and was safe and. My wife and, and son had actually seen, believed they saw the tornado go past. They were down trying to get some cellphone 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, you do, you have, I can't, and, and for folks. Having 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, you know I was obviously shocked at the damage and the and the destruction. We had two engines and a brush rig at that station. One of the engines and 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, basically when the tornado passed and the crew came out their. There shelter, the walked out and looked in it and there was four people in it. >> Did they survive? They did survive. The crew got them out and treated them quickly and grabbed the pick up truck that I can't remember if it was one of theirs or someone driving by and transported them to the hospital. So the hospital was still up and running? Had the hospital got back up and running or? >> Well, no, actually the hospital pretty much was devastated once again. Very few if any windows was left in it. Of course all of their electrical power was down. Their emergency generator was on the north side of the building so it was down. It had been destroyed. There were several gas leaks when in the building, and you know..they were...they were in a pretty rough way when the first..when the folks got there. But transported them over to the other hospital which was about a quarter mile away and...and got them to some care. And then the rest of the crew... So these guys were improvising, grab a pickup truck, treat these people, stabilize them, and start moving. Yeah. So these are...you know people talk about writing protocols and policies and procedures. You can't perceive 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 two trauma center. You know, and having it just completely devastated. You know losing two fire stations. >> But that would, that would be part of the plan. >> Exactly. >> We're gonna use this level two trauma station. >> Yeah we're gonna transport people to, to these facilities. >> Right. >> And, and you know basically that was just wiped off the map. >> Now I heard, just a [UNKNOWN] for a second. >> Mm-hm. >> That, that it was actually moved on it's foundation. Is that true? Or. I don't believe it was actually moved. In talking with the engineers that I talked to with FEMA 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 a building four inches, that's- >> And you know, it's a, it's probably >> That's a stout building. >> Absolutely. You know, compared to the, the building we're in right now, which is you know, 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. << Probably our own, only, true type 1 building in town. Like I say, it just devastated that building. << So you're out there with the crew with station 2, they're triage and treating people as they can. On the fly. >> Right. >> Were they able to get any of their equipment operational, or they're just completely, their equipment's 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 if it for about three to four days until we could get some replacements in the town. So we did at least have that one available to us for that first, you know, 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 it had, about what time was it when it lifted off, and you were able to get in and. Start to take at things. How, how long was that? What, what, by what time in the evening would you be out? Out there on the west side? >> You know probably about six o' clock is when when we we actually you know got the two crews started. And I got to start on the windshield survey of it. And you know, so about twenty minutes after, the initial touchdown, >> So you still had about two hours of daylight, to? >> Yeah about two to two and a half hours of daylight to, to try to, get a survey done, and, 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, how do you, yeah I mean that's that's [CROSSTALK] >> And it's you know, it's one of those things and, and [UNKNOWN] 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 five stations, five vehicles. You know, we've got call in crews coming back in. And we got mutual aid partners coming. But you know, once again even with everybody within 30 miles of me just showing up instantaneously, I still don't have enough people to deal with everybody that needs assistance. >> Right. >> And >> Typical crisis response. You, you don't have enough folks early on. >> Right. >> And soon you have. Want more folks than you really want. >> Right. >> Not that you can manage them because it becomes a point where you can tell people okay hang on a second here >> Well things don't, you know once you get to that point things don't move as quickly as what people want to do, you know want to move and myself included. We want them to move through this very quick. We want them to be very responsive to the citizens needs and. You know, once you do get that number of crews and, and you know, helpers in, it a, it does take you a while to to get them tasked out you know, in effective manner and, and in a pattern that you can you know, you can check off homes and structures. So. >> And, and the weather wasn't cooperating. Like, a lot of people picture tornadoes and then the- >> Yeah. >> Sun comes out and it's a normal day. Yeah >> But you were hit with, you were inundated with several storms for several says after this >> Yeah, we were, and, 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, Okay, 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 then try to recover. And. It just didn't happen >> so, so you, the tornado has come through >> Mm-hm >> You're doing the windshield survey, your crews are reporting back in to the operations chief >> Mm-hm >> And you're setting up your EOC and >> Right >> Calling mutual aid and doing all the normal things we would do. H-how many surface rescues, anecdotally, do you think your folks performed that first evening, cuz they must have. Done hundreds. >> yeah, and, you know, that's the bad part. During those first few hours you want to try to capture as much of the information as you can. And, you know I don't believe that we're ever gonna know truly how many we're gonna actually perform between the fire, the police, the EMS crews that came into town to assist us. You know in that first twelve to twenty four hour period. I would have to say literally you know hundreds if not thousands of of surface rescues 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 emergency response community but the citizens in town. 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. Just some sort of place where they could get care that they needed because of the injuries from the storm.>>Well I was amazed when we arrived Monday morning. Ten a.m. How many of the streets you had cleared. I mean- >> Right. >> Clearly, your public works department did an outstanding job- >> Yeah. >> Of clearing the roads- >> Yeah. >> Because it, you know, the emergency responders and the traffic was moving well. And, and your law enforcement people did an exemplary job because- >> Yep. >> The. Every intersection had officers. Added. >> Yeah. >> Who were managing the traffic glow and doing a wonderful job and you know, I saw, we saw a lot of your mutual aid crew and a lot of your folks working, you know, trying to do searches. >> Right. >> So, how do you, if you give us a sense that night starts the fall, you recognize your, been hit by an incredible act of nature >> Mm-hm >> How many homes, you know now exactly >> Mm-hm >> But how many homes, give people a sense, I mean it's a third of the community >> Right >> How many homes. You know what were hearing now from FEMA is and from our, from our planners and and our building staff is, right around eight 8,000 living structures. So you know that's homes and apartments, individuals apartments. So you know, if you will we've got you know, o, 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, about two and a half people per structure. So, you know, if you take that, you know, you've got 16,000 18,000 people displaced. >> And then there's nursing homes and places where your density's much higher. >> Exactly. >> My goodness. >> And churches and everything else. >> Yep. And, once again, this was a Sunday night. Not only are we in the middle of tornado alley, but we're in the Bible belt. So very religious and >> Sure. >> And God-fearing you know, population. And [CROSSTALK] >> Evening services. >> Yeah. >> 5 o'clock or 5:30 evening services. >> Yup, so a lot of people were either on their way to or at church. Of course with the High School graduation on, a significant amount of the population was out there, you know? There was some. You know, 4 to 5,000 at the graduation ceremonies. >> Now, do you think that helped you, Chief, in terms of having some folks with, this, this was a high school area with, the notifications went out twice. >> Mm-hm. Right. >> So, did the people at the high school get those notifications, as well? Did they, did they know what was going on? >> Yeah. Luckily, graduation was out at our college a local university that is on the north part of town so. The high school was actually empty at the time which was once again, a blessing for us and, and for the community. You know,- >> Did you get devastated or >> Yes. The high school's been destroyed. Suffered significant damage and as, as well as a technical school that's next door to it. So, you know, if we would have been having the the graduation ceremonies there. You know, I think the death toll would have probably been significantly higher than what it currently is. You know, a little bit of luck that rode along with us that night. And you know, i'm very glad that graduation was over at Missouri Southern, instead of at the high school. >> So that helped keep some folks out of harms way. And then the warnings that went out. And, and there were some stuff on MSNBC >> Mm-hm. >> 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, I don't think the [UNKNOWN] east coast folks. I was raised there. >> Mm-hm. But I don't think they understand what people do to take cover here. >> Right. >> In the Midwest. I mean people took cover as best they could. This was just a storm of unimaginable power. >> That's right. And you know I, in living in the Midwest, you know, tornado warnings of thunderstorm warnings are pretty much up part of daily routine >> It's a way of life. Sure >> 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 the Gulf and Atlantic Coast. Around here it's not unusual. In the weeks since then we've probably had 20 different thunderstorm warnings. Since then and you know and probably about six or so tornado warnings have been issued just since May 22. So it's, it's a very normal mode of life for the midwest and any of the communities around here. To say people ignored the warning, I don't, I don't know if that would be fair to say, but but like once again, they are very, very much a part of normal life. >> Right. >> So. yeah, did that 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 the obvious answer is no. >> Well, I think that people need to understand, too, when a tornado warning comes out. They don't say it's gonna go down you know, between third street and 20th street. It, it, it's not that precise. >> Yeah. >> You know, so the warning is just basically to raise your awareness level. So folks do you know, they make sure that the water and the, and the claws are where they're gonna take cover and That they, you know, it, it's a, it's to give people an awareness level. It's not a, it's not a specific. >> Right. >> Because, and with this tornado, >> Mm-hm. >> 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, in 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 heard, you know, numerous more people were headed for cover and taking shelter. But once again, the weather then deteriorated significantly obviously in those twenty minutes. Just the first one. >> You said your son and your wife thought they saw it. And I've, I've never seen one. >> And neither have I. [LAUGH] >> Cause, people always ask me, what is it like? How would they describe it, because what I've heard is that it just looks like really dark cloud, and it's >> And that's pretty much they just described it as a dark shadow that was moving across town. >> Wow >> So of course there were extraordinarily scared when they saw it and I can, I can only imagine, I mean it it had to be you know, an extremely terrifying. He ordeal to either see it, number one, or to actually live through it than, in, you know, to be in it, and, >> I mean, just to be in it, as you were, the fire chief, and responsible for all these good folks, and all these gas leaks now, and you're doing your windshield survey. And then you had two fire stations that were impacted, isn't that correct? >> That's right. Shortly after get out the two and checking on them, of course, we heard from Fire Station 4 saying 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. You know, and it, it definitely hampered our response capabilities. You know, I get a hold of our captain and our battalion ship on the, on the radio from Station 4, and their, their vehicle was in, inoperable. And so we just basically you know salvage some of the MS equipment and the rescue equipment that we could through them and the personnel pick-up, so the captain that actually ended up being destroyed as well. And, and just driving it to different sites, where we had people trapped and, and trying to affect rescues. So. >> Now, after you did the windshield survey, >> hm, >> and you knew, what you were up against, or how to start to formulate in your mind what you were up against, >> Right. >> where did you go after that? Over to EOC? Or where did you report in? >> Yeah, we, we came back to the EOC. And, and during that windshield survey, I'd gotten a hold of the city manager. We had met up, up on Main Street about the middle of the [UNKNOWN] actually he and I, he and I performed a few rescues of our own while we were out doing the window survey >> Wow >> Pulling some people out of basements and out of a collapsed church that we were doing >> Wow I'll never say anything bad about a city manager again. He was a real trooper and. >> Wasn't he. >> You know he got thrust into some situations that, he's not used to dealing with them. >> Sure. >> And, you know, I think he had told me that it was the first time he had actually seen, folks that have, been deceased, you know, without being through, you know, like a mortuaries handling or whatever. >> Right, real true victims. >> The, the true victims and, and, You know we saw, we saw dozens that night and, and I know it's affected him. And, and you know he asked us how do you guys do that, and you know it, it's just unfortunately it's a part of the job and and you know the job requirements for the fire servicey and as or police to see that. And yeah I think he's got a much better understanding now of what, what we do and what we deal with so. I feel bad for putting him in that situation but at the same point in time, I think we you know 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. So it It was it, it was also a, you know a good part of our, our survey and, 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 our GIS folks to drawing us some maps and, some, Some grids to start getting some grid searches set up. So, you know within about an hour, an hour and a half of the storm, we have a general path of the tornado. We had a general area that was affected and we had the, you know a grid plan getting set up you know via RGS folks to get out to the responders. So we can set to get to some kind of you know a,. You know some sort of order to the search patterns and, and where we've been and where we still needed to go. >> It reminds me, when you talking now, John Hansen was a great friend of mine in Oklahoma City. Went though the devastating F-5 that went >> Mh-mm >> right through the heart and, and like you John lost his home. Lost everything. And he said, initially its windshield surveys, surface rescues >> Right >> Trying to assess what do we have here? What do we need? What's our, 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, its got to be even more, Intricate, in a way, because for the Oklahoma City people, lots more resources, a, a much contoured de, decis. Joplin, Missouri is a rolling. >> Mm-hm. >> Hilly area. A lot of people picture the Midwest as all flat, like Illinois, Indiana cornfields. Right. >> This is a very contoured city with beautiful hills and little valleys, so you really needed to drive that 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 as incident commander, or how do you operational from that point. Pretty much what we did, he is city manager, he is in charge of the overall city, yes, he's the final call. He turned to me basically and asked, what do we do? << You know. << What's that instant command thing you've been talking about? << Exactly, you know, I was talking to Greg Gaines from the U.S. Fire Administration yesterday and I told him I just completed my EFO certification and when I was up in Emmitsburg, in my 3rd year going through [xx], I'm sitting there thinking. Boy, we'll never do anything like this, and that's some words I've ate now,. 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 of, not only what I needed to do in the next 12 to 24 hours, but what I needed to do past that and what resources I needed to get started towards the city. And, you know, so we sat down and basically, on a white board, with the depart heads we had in, which was about half of them at that time, started to outline what our first immediate needs and, you know, of course the first one was search rescue and medical care for, you know, the citizens that were affected. You know, secondly was some sort of a coordinated search to go house to house and to search those homes that were affected. And then third was to start providing, you know, shelter for the citizens that had lost their homes but were okay. >> Potentially sixteen of the twenty thousand people >> Exactly. You know starting to try and get them shelter. We started with that initial list and and then moved on from there. I think once we saw the the level of devastation in the probably the four to five miles that we drove you know, we you know, it was obvious that we were going to have a significant amount of injuries, it was obvious that we were gonna have significant amount of dead. and, it was obvious that, you know, this had outgrown not only our local capabilities, of our local, you know, department, and then, the, our normal mutual aid partners, but it had outgrown our regional, planning, and, and probably our state planning, because of just the number of, affected residents individuals and just the, the, the amount of devastation. I mean it just you, you know, you go out and you go to search this stuff and its not just like lifting up something and looking under it. You know this is int, intertwined, you know, just, you know- You walk together debris. >> No it's not a collapse in in any kind of traditional way. >> Exactly. >> It's, it's not, it's not a structural collapse from some faulty component or even fire damage where you can get pancakes. >> Right. >> And lean to's. This is a, a like a blender. >> Yeah, it and, and, and that's exactly what I've heard it called. I mean it's just like taking, you know, oh gosh, you know, a six and a half mile long, you know, mile wide section of a city, throwing everything into a blender and hitting liquefy, >> Yeah, and it's it's very hardening to hear you say, my EFO training, my emergency management preparedness classes that I took came into play and made a significant difference because. Oftentimes people ask us, why do you train so much? 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. Crimping gas lines I'm sure they had to do. I mean you can't. There's no more just isolated problems. >> Mm-hm. >> It's not, it's, everyone has to become a MacGyver, of a sorts. >> Exactly. >> And that, that requires training, in, innovation, confidence and the ability to act without permission. >> Mm-hm. >> And which is great. When, when we were speaking, earlier, about do we follow the plan. The best plan is that we'll train people and trust them. >> Exactly. And you know, that's what I was talking about with, yesterday when you know, Chief Gains/s called. And I told him, I said, you know, I think that the thing that contributed the most to the success is that everybody Artelinus/b 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 the city leadership. We have the right people in the right jobs performing the right work and and that was just. So critical to what we've been able to do here in the last five weeks since the storm. And I can tell you, within my department, I knew that once I got my deputy chief, my operations chief my battalions chief lined out on where I wanted to go, that I didn't need to check on them. Or micromanage them. I knew them. I trusted them and I counted on them to get the tasks done, and and that freed me up to, to look at the larger picture of, okay they're taking care of the here and 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 was, it was extraordinarily valuable to have those well trained, and, and once again those people who were able to improvise and respond to the incident at hand because, one, you know, like you say, there is, 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've got to just be in kind of reaction mode. You know if you're looking for everything written out in a plan, it wasn't there >> Right >> And I can't produce it >> Right >> You know, we, the, a lot of what we were doing was reactive by what we knew we needed to do and what we knew was right to do and, and and once again having 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 spelled the success to this. You know, more so that just my role. I mean, I've been the very public figure of the fire response here in town, but. But that's it. I mean I, I, I honestly you know, depended, counted, on all of the folks not only within my department 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 worked regionally since, You know 2002, and, all of that planning, all of that, that time getting to know folks and getting to know capabilities really paid off in this event. >> Having good neighbors and having good relationships with those neighbors really is the, is the key. >> Absolutely. >> And one of the things we talk about all the time when we talk about training is one of the most critical things we develop in training is trust for one another. And I think it was in Ardent du Picq who said four brave men who do not know each other well won't attack a lion, but four less brave men, mutually assured of each other's you know, reliability and trust, knowing each other, will attack resolutely. >> Right. >> So developing those relationships is so critical, and, and you see these some departments that are silos. We, we're not gonna need anybody's help. That's a...that's a bad plan. And you guys fortunately didn't have that mindset. Right. Joplin's a very...it'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. You know, 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 eight o'clock in the morning and it was a bee hive of activity and all those bees were wearing either yellow gear or black gear and they were going through the buildings one by one and the markings were on the buildings. And this was less than twelve hours after, maybe, maybe fourteen hours after you have been hit. And so much work had already been done. It was just amazing to see. And, and I think that, that the training aspect there is, is huge. And, and it really came through. Let's talk a minute about your men and women because I think it's important that folks know. Four of your folks beside yourself, so five total? >> Three. >> Three, three. >> Three besides me. >> Lost everything. >> That's correct. Homes are gone. >> Yes. >> So, right now you guys are living in temporary conditions, in temporary >> Yeah, you know, either with friends or family or you know, gotten a rental of some sort, an, you know. Kinda like me. I'm in a duplex right now. Fairly small duplex compared to the. You know the size of our home before, so. >> So you're looking down the barrel of a week to 10 days of non stop work and your wife has to, and your children have to figure out where we're going to sleep. >> Right. >> How do you manage that, chief? >> Well, you know the first couple three nights we basically my office was our home. And my wife and kids stayed in there with me. It's not a big office, it's maybe 15 by 15. And you know the four of us were sleeping and basically using that as our home. After about the third or fourth day, they moved to be with my sister and live in her basement for about another week. You know, lucky one of the county commissioners had a duplex that came open and available and, and you know, we were able to move into it. You know, basically call a place that you know, somewhere that we could, we could live. And my daughter keeps telling me, she goes, this is not home. This is not home. And you know, it's, it's one of those things that You know, it's the, the only home that my my two kids have known and is the house that we've lived in. And, you know, we'd be, basically, lived there since they were born and, and so they don't know anything else. >> Mm. >> So, 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 there 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 that first initial 12 hours or so, you know, my first concern was to get them out of here. And to get them home to, to take care of. You know, those personal issues, and we did that the next morning. We all reported to work, or they were either reporting to work or were at work with the general call in. But that next morning, once we got through that first push and got the service rescues and those types of things done. I got them out of here so they could take care of their home life. You know, get their loved ones taken care of. >> With 153 dead, and thousands injured. How are your men and women doing? How is your department doing? Did you do anything special? Did you bring in counseling? Or are they just using the churches, and the, how are they. They must've known dozens of those good folks, these are our neighbors and their cousins, relatives and >> You know, we've kinda used a variety of different methods, for the crews, you know, we've had some actual debriefings with some pastors that are, you know, fire department specific trained and. I think those were attended by a few. Most have sought their own, either counseling or debriefing through their own churches. Like I said, Joplin is a very religious community. I think everybody's >> But that's important, I think that's an important point. Faith. It, it's, it's amazing how important faith is in disasters, and how important faith is I think to the fire service as a whole. So 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. >> Mm-hm. Right. >> Or getting ready to make Sunday dinner. Dead. Gone. Whole families in some cases. >> Yeah. >> Lost and then some of the folks literally lost. Just gobbled up by this horrible act of nature and, you know, gone. You have to, you have to believe in more than just. The temporal. You have to have faith. >> You have to believe in more than yourself. I mean >> For sure. >> I think that's what kept our department going and >> Not to be overly religious, I am overly, >> Me too. >> I am religious and I know many firefighters are, I think it helps me. I know it helped me in my career and I think that living in a place like Joplin where you do have plenty of pastors and reverends and priests that you can talk to. >> Right. >> And those people are trained. >> And I agree. I'd say it's about more than just you, but it's more than about the individual. >> Yeah. and, >> Survivor's guilt >> exactly >> You know, 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 you know, I think it does, it's gotta help, and I mean, you know, I think that, you know, a good majority of the, the firefighters here are. You know, very, very religious in, in nature. And I think it does give them strength, to move on through these things. So. >> I, I, you know? I think it's important. I hope the folks listen to the young people who are running academies and get into. We should encourage it. >> Mm-hm. >> And not promote Episcopalians or Methodists or Catholics or whatever you happen to be. >> Right. >> But promote faith. You know? >> Yeah. >> Tell people, you know, if you, if you have faith. Hang onto it, if you don't, take a look at it. Believe in something, even if you want to go to Unitarian churches, or whatever you want to do, But believe in something greater than yourself. >> Absolutely, and I think anyone in the fire service, or public service needs to remember that. It's more than just about 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 and I think that, that religious belief and religious feeling plays into that very well. And it's about service. And you know, when you talk, you know, to any of the major religions, as you say, and, you know, regardless of what your individual belief is. You know it's all about service to others and about self sacrifice. And I mean if there's anything that says the fire service, that's it. >> That could make a good EFO paper if anybody out there is going to EFO right now. Faith in its role in the fire service or its impact in the fire service. So how is, it's now four weeks? >> Going on five, but yes. >> Going on five. Four and half, five weeks. How is Joplin right now and how do you predict the recovery, how long do you think the recovery is going to go and what are the plans for your department? For your organization? >> Well, you know, I think if you look out through 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 just fantastic to see you know, if you look at the amount of destruction and the devastation, you know, I don't think you can look at it and say, you know, 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 I mean. >> 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 belive this, that you know, not only for the fire service, what I'm deciding for the fire service. 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 years 50 in 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 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 different capabilities, once again, now is the time. >> You have discretionary time now to make decisions. Based upon long range planning, where >> Exactly >> Some, sometimes as a city grows, it's just, a fire station seemed like a good idea in 1960 >> Right >> But in 2010, not such a good idea >> Right >> Either, either the demographics didn't work out the way they predicted or >> Yeah >> 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, where we're headed, where we have grown since the you know, since these stations were build and built and put in place. So we, we are, you know, we are taking that all into 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 too look at those issues, you know, do we want to build everything back to 1940's 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 to look at improvements and, and you know, to consider you know, you know, basically the future and the, the next 50 to 100 years when we're planning neighborhoods, and, 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 this is a great place to live. This is an incredible part of the United States. If you haven't been to, I guess this is western, southwestern Missouri. This is gorgeous country. >> Yeah. >> Breath taking country. What is, what does the Joplin Fire Department need right, people want to do things for you, I know. >> Right. >> And, and people keep talking about this. What are, what are, what does Joplin really need and what does the Joplin Fire Department really need? >> Well, you know, I think. >> What would help? >> [LAUGH] You know, right now, we're, we're still working on the interim settlements, and those types of things, from the destroyed stations and, 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 Corps 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 Rosenbauer, 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 know, I think the thing that's gonna to 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 and millions of dollars. I heard very early on billions of dollars. And you know, billions of dollars it's just one of those things until you sit down and start typing out the zeros on a calculator or something. You don't realize how much money that is. >> Well that's nine zeros. >> Yeah. >> That's ,that's big money. >> That's big money and you know, just within the fire department by the time that 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 value. So, some of that is going to be covered by insurance, but obviously not all of it. Some of it's going to be covered by FEMA, but once again, obviously not all of it. You know, most of our immediate needs are met, but what we're going to need for the future rebuilding is going to be. And I hate to sound bad about this, and I feel guilty even saying that, but it's gonna be, it's gonna be cash, it's gonna be money. You know, they'll pay for this new equipment, they'll pay for those differences. >> Well is there, is there somewhere where people can go online if they want to make a donation to the Joplin Fire Department, is anything set up like that or to the city of Joplin. Yeah, the city does have a couple 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. >> You know we are set up city, so. >> Right. >> It all goes into the general fund and and it all, but So I, I did, if there is one I get you one before we leave and. >> Okay. Cuz we're correct on that. Our initial report from those all we 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 that's going to sustain job [INAUDIBLE] into the future. >> Yeah, most of those immediate needs were met very quickly within the first week or so and so. >> And we'll put that out. >> Yeah. >> We'll build that into the presentation. We'll make sure that people know in the beginning and the end how they can. Contribute to support. >> Sure. >> So, you, you're doing okay? >> You know, we're trying and obviously, you know, my family and I are a couple of weeks behind the curve, as, you know because of the work load that was there the first couple, three weeks, so we're in catch up mode. We're still, sorting through, what we were able to salvage from the house. I say, we. My wife and kids were able to salvage with the help of my folks and you know my brothers and sisters and then you know several of the union members from around the region came in to help us. You know, I have to admit I salvaged very little from my house. You know these folks that came in did that for us. You know, once again, that's kinda where we are. We're waiting on some insurance settlements and those types of things, once again. And, you know, trying to get our lives kinda back on track and back to normal. And you know, I guess my goal on a personal level is to be able to give my daughter a place to call home. We hope you do that real soon, and we really wanna thank you for taking the time to sit down with you today and allow us to have access to your staff, and your city, we know that you've got much better things to do than to sit and talk with us, but we thought it was important for you to get your story out to the >> Yeah >> fire service so 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. All over the country right now there's the floods up in Minot and the 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 one is coming. So you never know. >> Yeah. >> And being prepared is not just a motto for the American fire service. >> Right. >> It's got to be a creedo. >> Yeah. >> You know, it's something we live by and live up to. >> Yeah. >> And certainly. You and your organization exceeded anyone's expectations in terms of excellence and dedication and preparedness and came through and the 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 America is. Americans were just devastated to see such a beautiful community take such a dramatic hit, but we were also heartened to see 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. Thank you. If there's anything we can do for you at any time please don't hesitate to call. [MUSIC]

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