Home>Topics>>After the Tornado: Interview with Joplin (MO) Deputy Chief James Perkins

After the Tornado: Interview with Joplin (MO) Deputy Chief James Perkins

Mon, 1 Aug 2011|

Chief Bobby Halton talks to Joplin (MO) Deputy Chief James Perkins about the devastating tornado that struck the city in May 2011 and the fire response to the event.

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Transcript

[MUSIC] [BLANK_AUDIO] We're here at the Joplin Fire Department and we're talking about the events of May 22nd when a F5 tornado. Tore through the city of Joplin, virtually destroying the center of the city. A mile wide path, 14 miles long. Wreaking tremendous devastation. We met with the fire chief earlier, we talked about the men and women of the Joplin fire department and what an exemplary job they did in managing this event and responding, and, in the true tradition of the fire service, with the highest. Levels of dedication, passion, and integrity. They innovated they, were able to overcome unbelievable obstacles and, and perform their tasks admirably. Setting a bar for the rest of the nation in terms of performance of duty and, and, and dedication. And we're very fortunate enough to have some time to spend with the Deputy Chief of Operations, James Perkins who's. Been on the job for 20 years now? >> 22 years. >> 22 years. And deputy chief of ops. And how many men and women report into the operations division? >> There are 84 of us on the department total. 22, 84, so 76 belong to me. >> Wow, wow. Now if you don't mind, and I know it's painful, and if it's too painful, don't, you don't have to go there. But. Can you walk us through what you were doing where you were Sunday evening and how it all unfolded for you? >> Yeah we had been advised that we had the potential of some weather. I knew that, that Chief Reynolds was gonna be attending his, his son's graduation, so I was trying to keep an eye on, on the weather, in coordination with our emergency management director. To try to figure out so that if I needed to interrupt him, I would. Watch this one little cell. And it just kept getting bigger, and bigger, and then it started to track east. And it just kept looking more and more ominous as it got close to us, and eventually I decided to call him, to call chief Randalls, and tell him you know, you need to start about. Getting some place safe. Because I wasn't sure what it was gonna do, but I didn't like the looks of it. I also was listening to a VHF radio to try to pick up any chatter that was going on in the area. I started to hear some chatter. And, then, you know, basically all hell broke loose. When we started to hear a lot of chatter, one of the local news stations actually turned their tower cam and pointed due west. I remember distinctly looking at my wife and going that's a tornado and I'll see you next week. And I just took off. Got my stuff on and headed in. Drove right in, into the heart of this thing and luckily I was on the north side of the storm. But went through hail, rain, the wind was incredible, it started to move my car around, and I thought well, this isn't good. Then I noticed my windshield crack, and I thought, well, that's not good. But eventually we got there, as the, when the storm finally let up and I was able to get in here. Then it was just trying to. Get my head around what had happened. I could hear Chief Randall's out, he was already gone out to try do some some surveying. And I could hear him, you know, constantly calling in that we've got viable victims here, we've got viable victims there. And it just didn't stop. Literally couldn't get my head around how big this thing was. It was about forty five minutes after, I had gotten here when we finally got somewhat of a handle on what we needed to do, and I had understood that I had lost two stations, so that the response capability was going to be restricted. Then it was just trying to figure out how to best use the resources that we had left. And then, from that point, Chief Reynolds and I talked and he said, you've got to get out and go south. And that was the only marching orders I had. Get south. I went as far south as I could go, on Main Street, figuring it's a tornado, and I've seen tornado damage before. I expected to see roofs down, trees down and things along those lines. When I got to 20th and Main Street and I came across the first building that was collapsed, that's when I thought this was just a little bit different and then the farther south I went, I only went another four blocks, but it went from just moderate damage to structures that are just simply erased. They're no longer there. That's when I realized that, that something significant had happened. And again, I think my original on scene report stated that I was where I was as far south as I could go. And that I needed help. The most miniscule feeling in the world is, is to get out of your car with your radio and your turnout gear on. You realize you have no help, and you have people walking up to you. And they want to know, what to do. And that was, that was tough. I was trying to figure out, how to, best serve the folks that had, paid my salary for 22 years. When at the same time, not even knowing if all my guys had gotten out yet. So, you know, that was kinda tough. >> Wow. Wow. So. You're out at the, the heart of the tornado just about where the, kind of right in the middle of that seven miles, 14 mile stretch. It kinda cuts it right in half. So you're standing there by yourself, deploying your troops. What were some of your biggest concerns? I know you had several fires. >> Well yea. That was my major concern was I kept seeing smoke. And it just kept coming from different spots, I wasn't sure how many buildings. Or debris piles or whatever you wanted to call them we had burning. But as I started calling for help there. You know, obviously you could hear and smell gas. You could hear the lines going. And then ultimately one of the things that was a problem was, you know, the water. We talked earlier about. You, you don't expect a tornado to cause water shortages. But when you have taken out 8000 structures, and all of them are leaking water, it, it drains your tanks out. So, the challenge was we had limited water to fight the buildings that were on fire. Since they were scattered out everywhere you know, literally the debris piles were only 2 or 3, 5 feet tall at the most, my concern was how far does this go? And if I lose it, how far is it going to go, before I can get in front of it. >> Cause the debris was all interconnected, almost, yeah. >> Almost like >> Yeah. It's almost like a giant lumberyard but on the ground. >> Yes, it was. >> If people think back to the pictures that we've seen, and we could probably put some pictures into the interviews so people get an idea of what you were talking about so your concern was a fire could really become complication. >> Yeah, I was, again, I was concerned about where I was gonna have the ability to stop this, because I've got people, I know I've got people in these buildings. Am I gonna be able to get to them? You know. Are, are the guys gonna be able to get there and do what is necessary before the fire gets them? You know, that, that, that was horrifying to me was the fact that they had survived the tornado and we're gonna lose them in a fire. >> Right. >> Didn't want that to happen. So, it was trying to marshal whatever resources I could get. To start gridding it off >> And I think that's a really important point to get across to people, and I never thought about it and all the, emergency prepared classes I've taken for earthquakes and floods and tornadoes, and we've all been to EMI and the other schools, I never recall hearing anyone talk about the fact that if you eliminate a significant amount of structures. Those small water lines. All those small water lines end up being a significant drain on the system. So you, you had basically what you had in your tank to fight these fires. >> Right, yeah. >> Cuz your, your hydrant system's depleted. >> Yeah. >> It's, it's down. >> Trying to fight the fires off of tank water the, the major challenge was to try to keep it into the pile that had started it. Or, you know, what's left of the residence. And then trying to be able to get additional trucks in, to, to nurse em. That was a problem because of the, all the trees down and the limbs and the debris everywhere, was how many trucks could we actually get in there. Then obviously, then you start looking for heavy equipment. And how are you gonna get the heavy equipment in? And I know that there were times when, you know, I would yell for, for heavy equipment, and somebody would show up with a skid steer. Skid steers aren't very big, but the guys that were using them that night. They were some wizards when it came to having the ability to clear streets. It got to a point where we had, you know, I would assign out units to go, and then try to get some heavy equipments with them. To help clear the way in. >> Right, so they could get past. >> So they could get past. It wasn't just, you know, it wasn't just the trees and the houses, it was the cars. that, that were just picked up. And we had cars on top of buildings. We had cars on top of cars. We had people in the cars. And then trying to be utilize what best resources you've got. How many sets of jobs. How many different, teams have we got. That was, an issue all by itself. Was trying to coordinate all the. All the folks that did come in. >> Right. So, you, you had a really great relationship with your surrounding communities. And years ago, you guys four, four major communities that come together and divide it up, you call kind of, the super plan. Can you explain that a little bit? >> Well, back you know, the post-9/11 world when the state of Missouri got into the Homeland Security. Response team business, there were four major players, in, in, region D. The City of Joplin, the City of Springfield, Branson and Taney County and then Logan Rogersville fire protection district. And each one us had decided that, well, we all had the same base capacity for hazmat. Each one of us wanted to develop a specialty. Branson and Taney County wanted to go after the, the mass casualty response capability which we wound up using them up here in, in that capacity. Rogersville, Logan Rogersville wanted to go after the pure hazmat aspect of it. Springfield wanted to develop their EOD capabilities. And then what we wanted to focus on was heavy rescue. Having the ability, and, and ironically enough we had all planned on, you know, we were going to have to go to Branson at some point in time- that's what we thought. Didn't work out that way, uh,they wound up coming to us. But what we did was, we didn't fight over the money. We each simply went ahead and picked an area that we thought we could specialize in. That wouldn't interfere with the other ones. And the, the idea was we would all come together if, if the need ever arose. >> So when you were sitting in your car that evening you knew that your friends from Branson were coming. >> Oh yeah. >> And they were going to be able to help you with >> Mm-hm. >> And and er,er,er, earlier in our conversation we should probably Let folks know that you and the chief were out, and your crews were out recovering a lot of deceased. >> Mh-hm. >> And basically it was identifying where they were, and leaving them there. >> Mh-hm. >> So the Branson teams job was probably to come in and then start setting up the temporary morgue's and tagging them in. >> Well they, yeah they came rolling in with the Disaster Medical Assistance Team, the DMAT. They are a large component of Missouri's dmat. We wound up using them for that, they were probably more in-tune with the, the EMS folks. I knew Springfield would come in. They've got heavy rescue as well. I knew they were coming. The guys from Northwest Arkansas and then Northeast Oklahoma. Were absolutely wonderful to deal with. They came running at a minutes notice. >> The folks out of Bentonville and Rodgers, and Chuck Rodgers and those guys. >> We've had a little cross-border communication with them, because part of the Wal-Mart Enterprise is on the Missouri side, so from a homeland security standpoint we had some responsibility for it. But they, they were wonderful to work with. Came in, just folded right into the management system that we'd established and didn't have a single issue with them. >> So how does a guy, you're, you're the ops chief. Your family was okay? >> Oh yeah. >> And, and your property was? >> Yeah, I live up north, so didn't have a single issue. So, you knew your family was safe. So now you've got, your, your town's been torn in half and you've got members affected. >> Mm-hm. >> their, at least their property's been affected. And you've got all your, all hands working. >> Mm-hm. >> And people coming in. What did you do? How did you, how did you manage that influx? Cuz when we got here Monday morning it was. It was just what we would say, you know, what the expression is, it was **** and elbows. >> Mm-hm. >> Everybody was, everybody was working. >> Mm-hm. >> There was nobody standing around looking for what to do. Everybody was working. So how did you, how did, how did, how do you, how do you eat that elephant? What did you, how'd you do it? >> Well again, you know, you eat the elephant one bite at a time. And it probably took us between four and six hours to get a real good handle on what was going on. That's the one thing they leave out in any incident management classes, the timeline and, and how it's gonna play out. You know, you're taught in I, I see as 400 how to deal with volunteers well okay, on day two. This was happening day one, actually day zero plus 45 minutes we had them coming me. It took us about four to six hours to get the EOC up, established to where we could start capturing the resources. Setting up staging areas. While we were doing that as quickly as we could, it didn't make a lot of sense to stage because everybody was needed. So, it wasn't until four to six hours later that we started to get the staging area set up. Where we could catch them. Tell, you know, anyone that was on their way in. This is where we need you to go. And them from the EOC, we'll go ahead and, and task you out from there. That is, once we got to that point, and everything kind of settled down, and it, it worked a whole lot smoother, we were able to keep track of folks, we knew where they were, we had a rough idea of how many we had, I know that on the second day. We pushed 750 people through our check in, and sent them out into the field. The second night, you know, we were doing it around the clock operations and on the second night we had a pretty big influx and we had some, some strong storms coming in. We had, had some issues with lightning. Some of the folks getting struck. We lost a police officer from Riverside because of that. So obviously at that point, you know, everything has to stop. That's a hard decision to make is to look at, at 200 plus people that wanna get out there and help, and tell them no, I can't send you out there because you're. move valuable to me alive. If your dead then your part of the problem not part of the solution. So I had to stop them and wait until the weather cleared. When the weather cleared, I had made a phone call down to Springfield fire department Dave Pennington was an absolute gem of a guy to work with. I called him up and said "David, this is what I've got, I need some help". And dropped what he was doing, drove up here. When he got here, came walking in I said I've got 197 people for you, this is the task, and he said can I have them all? I said yup. And he said okay. Three hours later he's back in my EOC sitting out, time was about 3:00 in the morning, he said we got that cleared. And he said, my suggestion is, did we wait until morning, and then we'll regroup. And then they just, at that point it gave us enough of a breather that we had gotten the initial tasks done, thought we had gotten as many of the surface folks as we could, and then we could develop a more thorough plan. >> Well, and a lot of the folks that came in early helped with that surface, I think, the chief made a great comment over lunch, he said that. To hear your wife asked you were you trained for this? >> Mm-hm. >> And, and your response was? >> Yeah I, I, I had, you know, received training but the funny part about it is, is I don't think I used anything more than ICS 200 in the, in the initial responses. It's all single company operations, that's all it is. And that's everything we learned from day one. >> That's everything from day one. You know, the bigger the incident, I think the more simplistic the planning has to be, because you know, you can make a really great plan that is not executable, or you can make a pretty good plan that you can execute and tweak on the fly, and that's what we had to do. We were making this up as we went along. So you in, like every city you'd identified your target hazards. >> Mm-hm. >> And your areas of concern, and unfortunately for you several of them, the, the nursing home and the hospital were, were, were hit. >> Yeah. Mm-hm. >> So, talk a little bit about how you're prioritized, cuz at some point you started to. Weigh resources more heavily >> Mm-hm. >> In one form or another. >> My plan and I was only one of, of, four different operational posts that was out there. When I got to where I was at as far as how I was gonna to try and develop the resources. the, the first captain that came up to me I'll never forget this, he said what do you, what do you want done? And I said, and I pointed west, and I said go that way. And he said what do you want me to do? I said you'll figure it out I said go, just start scouting. And the whole point was I wanted to get some, some recount out there, >> Right. >> Because I still didn't have any idea how big this thing was. I gotta get them out there to start telling me where I'm gonna need resources. Unfortunately my scout team got stuck when they ran into the nursing home, that they had multiple, they had multiple deceased, but they also had lots of folks that we could get out. That wound up becoming one of the resource sponges that I kept calling them, they were a resource sponge, because any time I got more resources available I'd ask them do you need anymore help. And they would always say yeah. So, I just kept sending them out. The more resources that showed up, the more that I would send over there. And we had 35 or 40 people digging, throughout the course of the night, just trying to recover. >> I can't imagine. I saw the building, and you can't imagine that anybody, >> Mm hm >> Survived in that building. So it's just amazing. You know, there is also the question that we ask in the fire service, you know, is that survivable. But, now, what do they call it rescue profiling. >> Rescue profile >> And, you pulled dozens of folks out of that nursing >> Hm-mm >> home alive. >> Hm-mm >> But from the hilltop where Mark and I went. And looking down at it from Saint John's church it's >> Saint Mary's. >> Saint Mary's, from Saint Mary's Church, you wouldn't think anybody would come out of that building. >> No, no. >> Just a miracle that anyone came out of that building. >> Uh-huh. >> And, and, it was your crews were still on it 10 o'clock the next morning. >> Uh-huh. >> Still going through it you know. >> Yep. >> Because the. The descriptions that, that you get from you and your men, it's not a collapse, it's not a collapse in the traditional sense of a collapse, is it? >> No. You know, collapse rescue, you learn to do void searches and things like that and you understand that, well maybe we're gonna have a lean to our [UNKNOWN]. This wasn't a pancake, this, this was. This was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I mean, it was just smeared, is the way it looked. That was the best way to describe it, was everything was just smeared. The debris was just scattered and just smeared out. So there weren't traditional voids. I mean, we were looking you know, the guys were looking in between. And around, you know, bed and bed frames, and cars just trying to figure out where folks could be. >> And your construction was, ran the gambit. >> Oh yeah. huh. >> You had type one, hospital right there. All the way down to the Mason area homes that were built in the 30s and 40s. And everything in between. Fast food restaurants. You, you had everything under the sun to deal with. >> Yep. You know, you talked about, as far as target hazards. You know, you, you can with one target hazard, but when you're in an area where all of your target hazards have been hit, How do you prioritize that? You know, it realistically wound up becoming a first come first serve kind of thing, and it wasn't that's what we planned to do. That's just how it worked out. As the crews would walk out they would go until they ran into something and then they would stop. And then you know from a management stand point you've gotta keep pushing beyond that. I've gotta keep pushing more resources out past that cuz there's a lot of area, that needs to be done. But it, it was just simply. Then, you know, there was nothing more technical than a grid search. Starting and drawing squares and trying to tell people how to get to where they're going. >> So you had your, all your folks obviously were working from the minute it hit until, until basically they couldn't work any longer. What were your operational periods like? How did you break it up, Chief? >> Well, yeah, probably the first three days that was one operational period. I mean,. From the incident management standpoint we were going in 12 hour operational sections. But realistically the folks that were out there were out there. We would try to bring them back at about 7 o'clock and then trade them out. And the biggest mistake I made out of the whole event was not trying to get into some type of a rotation. With our folks, I waited probably a day or so longer than I should've, to put them on a 36 hour rotation where I could get some sense of, of normalcy back. But, you know. [CROSSTALK] >> That's hindsight, though, too. >> Yeah. >> And, you, one of the things that I think is important is that your folks. Know the town. >> Mm-hm. >> And, and they know which houses have basements, they know>> Right. >> what school. You know, they knew. And, and that, that insider knowledge is almost invaluable. I mean you can, you can bring in all the well intentioned >> Mm-hm. >> folks you want from around the area, but no one. Chief Bennet, during lunch he said you know, I, I would have told somebody that it's on the corner near the Arby's. Arby's was gone. Now you only know that if. >> Yeah, huh. >> You're a Joplinite or Joplonian or whatever the word is. >> Joplinite is what they use. >> Joplinite? You're a Joplinite. So that's understandable. I, you know, and everybody. It was the right decision at the time and it worked out well, so I would, I would say I don't think it was a mistake. It may seem like you pushed them a little hard, but I don't think you could have gotten them >> Well, yeah, that was the issue, was you would tell them to go lay down and they would all look at you, to a person, and say no I've got things to do. The most striking thing is the. I remember trying to get one of the station two crews, they were the first station that got destroyed just geographically. They got hit before four did. But they wouldn't leave until they had dug their truck out. >> Wow. >> They refused to leave until they got the engine out of the bay. >> Wow. Part of the team. >> [LAUGH] Like, okay. So, yeah. >> It's a crew member. >> Absolutely, they, they, you know, were not gonna leave anybody behind. Wow >> And they, they wouldn't lay down. You know, I kept trying to get them to lay down, but you couldn't, and it wasn't just, you know, it wasn't just our guys, it was everybody that came in, you would try to get them to, to take a rest break and they just wouldn't do it, they had things to do. >> Now I know there was a lot of this, this, regional teams, your, your, your,. Primary partners all showed up fairly quickly. And a lot of the regional fire departments came in. And you had Missouri Task Force One, >> Yep. >> Cuz they're fairly close by. >> Yep. >> And they were here within about 16 hours or so, >> Mm-hm. >> And set up. And so you had some, some good support. Tell us about how it progressed from there. In other words, your. Now you know you've got a 14 mile swath, it's a half mile wide. How did it go from there? What was the things that you are proudest of and - - because it was an exemplary deployment. It really was. >> Probably the thing that we're most proud of was the fact that we were able to get a handle. And, you know, just what was going on. And being able to bring in resources and I, I know there were a couple of times that, that I apologized to Task Force One and the St. Louis county folks when they came in. When they called me and said that they were an hour out and that they had 120 folks in 60 something vehicles. Okay from a staging standpoint where do you put 64 vehicles, you know in a town that's already half destroyed? That, that was comical actually. It's like 2:00 in the morning and I'm like I'm way too tired for this. [LAUGH] But, being able to bring these guys in and again I had to apologize because I felt like I was tasking them underneath what their capabilities were, especially task force one, you know they're, you know this is the big FEMA team that goes to these big heavy building that are destroyed, well. We didn't have any heavy buildings that were destroyed, what we were, other than Home Depot and Walmart, but the destruction out there was so catastrophic that, you know, really, I wasn't sure they were going to be able to be used to the, the ability that they felt they were, you know, capable of. But the ability to bring in all these different resources from all across the country because it just kept getting farther and farther out, especially when we were using dog teams. but, the transition from, you know, air scent dogs that are designed to find live folks to the cadaver dogs. We were bringing in dogs from Tennessee, Indiana. Texas, you know, these are all part of the FEMA task forces to bring them in. We were bringing them in for, you know, over a week. >> Hm-mm >> We managed to get, when you look at the damage path we were capable of going back and forth seven times. Clearing the grids. We went from one end to the other turn around, started and came back the other way. That was a huge, huge accomplishment. >> Hm-mm >> And, we had been through every inch of. The damage path at least six times. Yeah at least six times. >> Wow. >> Over the course of the day's power. And then throw a presidential visit in there and every other visiting dignitary that wanted to come by and take a look. That was, that was what we're most proud of. Now what would you recommend, I know your doing it here, but what would you recommend to other cities, Midwestern cities that are prone to floods, fires, tornadoes? >> Acknowledge the fact that it can happen. Since 2003 we've had. The three tornadoes come through the area, 2003 we had one go through Carl Junction it was an F3. And then the F4 it went through pitcher and then, through the middle of Newton County, and then this one, you have to acknowledge the fact that it can happen here and that the planning process. You actually have to pay attention. Make contacts. Get past, you know, the petty arguments as far as territorialism, and understand that everyone is going to be committed. And everybody is going to be working. You have one common goal and that is to provide the service to folks that pay your paycheck. You have to understand and plan for that and know that it can happen. >> Now, would you recommend one of the things I was talking to some of my, my friends that came up here and they said they brought their packs with them. >> Mm-hm. >> And I said, you know, that's a great piece of tradition that's a midwestern tradition. Is that midwestern fire fighters always have a pack and in that pack you've got water, >> Mm-hm. >> Snickers bars, >> Mm-hm. >> Peanut butter. What ever you would need to keep you going for 72 hours. >> Mm-hm. >> And it's just your pack. And you take it with you every where you go. And it's, it's a campers thing. >> Mm-hm. >> It's a hunters thing. It's, you know, you could get a blow out in the middle of the woods. Have to hike out. But you're fine. You've got three days worth of water and food. Do you recommend that for>>Oh yeah. You know, the funny part about that is that knowing that the task forces that were coming in would be operating with that mind set. I didn't really think about where I was going to bunk them down. I figured that they would basically make camp and they would be find. And I had a couple of days to worry about that. I was more concerned about all the volunteers that were coming in. All the folks that showed up by the way.>>Well intentions.>>Yeah. Showed up in flip flops and had a chainsaw, and there were some spooky folks that showed up by the way.>>[laughter] I'm picturing a guy with flip flops and a chainsaw. That's a good visual right there.>>Go back and look at the footage. You'll find them. They were out there. But I wasn't worried about it so that when somebody else had, had made arrangements to bed down, all the responders and it's a good was thing Missouri Southern had just, the classes were over, the doors were, were standing empty, Southern opened their doors. >> Oh, wow. >> And brought them all in. We bunked them all down in there. Which was you know, completely ahead of my timeline, I was just completely floored, when they hadn't actually thought that through. And I though, whoa you know, because I knew that the folks coming in, would be self-sustained. They would be able to take care of themselves for a couple of days, and I you know, I had a little bit of time, to try to figure out, where to, where to put them. >> When you think of the experience that you went through, using skid-loaders, you know. really, you know, we were, out and we saw the fellas from, with the orange truck. So the as [UNKNOWN] guys or as. >> Oh, oh, >> **** flop. They're they're tree service. >> Mm hm. >> Nation wide tree service. >> Mm hm. >> And then you realize, how critical those guys are. >> Yeah absolutely. >> Cause, who else can do that as as quickly and effectively as those fellas cause that's what they do that's the the. That's their >> Yeah. >> Primary mission, you know, we fight fire. >> Mm-hm >> But these guys and, and they were all over the place. I mean, they were here and >> Yup. >> They just, when you think about the relationships that you need to establish today, not. One on Monday morning. >> Right >> You need to, they were all, you could tell they were all in place here in Joplin, >> Hm-mm >> Sunday night. >> Hm-mm >> Before this ever happened >> I think the one first response agency that gets overlooked because I had this conversation with a public works director, when he pointed it out to me that they were every bit, as much, a part of the first responses as everybody else was. And it wasn't until we had that conversation and I thought about well, you know, you're absolutely right. You know, with, without the front end loaders, without the backhoes, and, and without the other heavy equipment, we can't do anything. >> You weren't going anywhere. >> You know, I, you know, that's, that is an invaluable relationship to have, is to, you know, have. The ability to sit and talk to, you know, your public works folks. And talk to 'em intelligently, and in, with the respect that's, you know, that's due them. Because without them, there's not much you can do. You know, a, a big shiny fire truck will only go so far until you. You now, meet a 200 year old Oak tree that's not going to give and you can't push it. You know, the chrome in a Golf Leaf isn't going to make it go, it's not intimidated. >> And our roof saws and our K12's are just interesting. >> Yes just very interesting. >> Because they don't have that depth of cut, you know the fella that gets out and has got that three foot blade on that real tree rig and knows how to use it is going to get through that thing, well we were watching them, Mark and I were just. Thoroughly impressed, ya know, that guys were moving trees out of the way as fast as you or I would hook up a car >> hm. >> and drag it out of the way. >> Yeah. They were, they were going great guns and they got the, we had the streets open, our, our public works crew, and all the help they had, were phenomenal. We had the streets virtually open to where we could pass through almost all of them inside of two days. To where we can actually get up and down the streets. And that's the side streets included. >> Now you have the opportunity now to rebuild two stations. And I know you were planning on building station six also. So how does this devastation affect your mindset going into that. Because that's going to all. That, that landscape is gonna look somewhat different. >> Yeah. it's gonna be significant. >> It's gonna come back, but it's gonna look different. >> Right, it's gonna be significantly different. I, the first question that we have to ask ourselves is that station two was built in, in 1982. Ironically 20. 27 years, no, 81 or 82, but it was open, it opened on May 23 of 1982. So it was open, you know, that many years and odd day. The problem is is that what does the demographics of the city look like. Are the stations in the right place? I know, is this an opportunity for us to go back to the drawing board and say okay, do we wanna put him here? We have a singularly unique opportunity, with the landscape being redrawn to maybe correct some of the mistakes of the past, not anything that was overtly done, it's just that, you know, you can only look in a crystal ball and, and pretend you know where things are gonna go. But, neither you nor I know what's going to happen in 20 years. You do the best you can and this is, you know, using your, your best educated guess. Do we have the ability to go back and maybe move the stations to someplace where perhaps we can get better coverage. I ideally would like to put the stations where they don't line up with each other. In case a tornado comes through so I don't lose them both. And you know, you can deal with one station down. I know that Chief Reynolds and I had this conversation. I can deal with losing one, from a response capability and a response plan standpoint. But losing two absolutely threw a huge wrinkle in what we were doing. >> Wow. And it's fascinating, cause right now you have a moratorium on building. [INAUDIBLE] >> Yep. >> So, you're just getting things cleared up. Do you foresee them rezoning or creating, doing something, >> No. >> Creative with that? Cuz I, and I don't know how this works, I mean, if you get your house destroyed and your mortgage company pays you off, do you still own the land or is it. Yeah, they still own the land, yeah. >> So the homeowner still owns the land? >> Mm-mm. Yeah. I know that, that, yeah. >> Now are they required to rebuild there or, I guess they could go anywhere they want? >> I don't know. I know that, that, with, with Mitch's house when it was destroyed, you know, he's already looked to go elsewhere, he's already moved, but he still owns that plot, still owns his land. It's a matter of what he wants to do with it. I mean, there are some folks in town, that are, you got the rumors that there are speculators in town buying up pieces of, buying up the land. Is it going to look different? Yeah, it's going to look a lot different. From a zoning standpoint, I can't really see them doing anything different. The majority of it was zoned. residential and what was residential will probably stay that way and what was commercial will stay that way. Obviously everything on rangeland all the stuff up around Home Depot and Wal-Mart those things will remain commercial and hopefully we can get them back. This department lives and dies based on the sales tax, so when you lose a Wal-Mart that puts out the volume that the store on 15th street did, that's a huge hit to the economy. What the chief was telling us its like the 5th largest producing Wal-Mart. >> It's huge. It's always in their top 10, always. >> Wow. >> So that's a lot of revenue we are losing. The plan, the problem there is we are based off the sales tax. You know, looking worse case scenario how long can we sustain the level of, of capability we have. And, you know, hopefully when everything comes back. And the, the Wal-mart folks, God love them, have decided that they want to be open by November. And I firmly believe that they will be open by November. American ingenuity, >> Yeah, yeah. >> they'll, they'll get her done >> Well, Walgreens. We lost a Walgreens at 20th and Range Land, right in the heart of the, you know, right in front of, of Home Depot. they, came in, salvaged what they could, cleared it off, and it's almost redone. I mean, >> Really. >> they're they're almost done Yeah. >> The Home Depot. >> Not the Home Depot, Walgreens >> Walgreens. >> was right in front of it. >> Right, right right, we saw that. >> And it's, it's all but rebuilt. So they came in, and they cleared that lot off, and just started throwing blocks down. >> So, from an operations standpoint, you're the man. What are you gonna build into the system going forward? In other words, you gave two warnings to everybody. You had your crews hunkered down. What are you gonna do operationally. Just based upon tornado preparedness for our fellow, and, and I guess it's, it's no longer tornado alley, because while I was in Boston two or three weeks ago, two towns got leveled by an F4. >> Yeah, well, we watched it. >> I just felt, I couldn't believe it. Yeah, and they, they blamed me, they said you're the guy from Oklahoma who just flew in, it's following you. But >> Yep. >> You know when I heard tornado, I thought you know, maybe >> Really. >> Small twister. Yeah. Mm-hm. >> It, it, >> Mm-hm. >> Devastated two towns. >> Yeah it did, yes. >> So what would you build into your plans now that you learned from this experience? >> Well obviously [LAUGH] the first thing we're gonna do is put safe rooms in everything that was one of the challenges. Was where do we put em, you know, obviously you try to find the interior room and all that and while it worked, some of the guys that brought pictures back were taking pictures lookin' straight up through the roof, that was disquieting, to realize we got that close, so we're gonna put safe rooms and everything, try to, you know fortify the buildings as best we can. I know we had some FEMA engineers come in to look at the disaster area and then look at the collapses to try to figure out. >> 200 mile an hour winds though Jim, you not gonna, what you are going to build? I mean. >> Yeah, well. Well if we can put a storm shelter that is capable of sustaining or surviving you know, an F5 that. You know, that's, that's going to be a plus. >> I was always told and we built one in my home and we slightened it with that if the closer you can get to grain the better. >> Right. >> And so we put ours in ground in our, in our garage. >> Mm-hm. >> So, you know, that's for our safe from this in our home. And that's what we were told, I don't know, that could be. >> One of the challenges that we, we came across, and this is one of those things that you think about about 3 o'clock in the morning when you're sitting in the OC, is all the folks that had those below grade storm shelters that are now underneath all the debris. >> The debris. Right. >> How do they get out? >> Right. >> And have we done a good enough job. And will the dogs pick up on effect. >> because you are eight feet below the ground. >> Yeah, and you got al the house that's sitting on top of it. Luckily we didn't find anybody in a subterranean vault, so that was a plus. But as, as far as trying to make the station as safe as we can. >> What they tell you. Bring your little portal paddy down in there. >> Yeah. >> My wife and I have two boxes of wine. >> There you go, there you go. >> [LAUGH] that's- >> Candle light, there you go. [LAUGH] You know, it's a romantic evening. >> It's working for us. >> I can find a better way to do it, but we're okay. >> You can put some dry goods down there so you can, you know, crackers and such. >> Mm-hm. >> But, you know, to not have one is almost. >> Well the guys that were at station before I know for a fact that after the tornado had passed and they stood and watched as much of the destruction as they could. When I realize that all the trucks were, were destroyed, they literally were tunneling underneath the debri to get to the trucks to be able to get hand tools because they knew they needed hand tools. They got as many hand tools as they could get and then they ran outside and got in whoever's vehicle wasn't damaged or destroyed and then they responded out in pobs. You know, that was the same thing in the guys at two. Because there was nothing that they could use. They couldn't physically get out of the stations. >> Right. >> You know, that's something that not everybody realises is that we spent probably the first hour of the response with only two of the stations in the, in the mix. Because of the huge influx of calls that were coming into the 911 center our dispatchers were completely overwhelmed. We utilized some of the guys from station one to go down and try to help sort through so we could try to get. Ahead of it. So instead of chasing our tail and reacting we could, intelligently point ourselves in a direction. So, it, it we had, you know, the, the first, you know, 45 minutes to an hour until the guys at 2 and 4 could get dug out. Only about 8 people out there with the trucks we had available and then everything started to, you know, trickle in and we were able to, to. Formulate a better response plan. >> Now I'll tell you some of the stuff that was heartening to hear you talk about was some of the lessons that people say that, and I hate this expression when they say, you know, 200 years of tradition [INAUDIBLE] I, I think it's, I, I think it's 200 years of progress enhanced by tradition. Cause if you looked at what you were doing with the street markings, it's what they did in Hurricane Andrew. They, they, you, the signs are gone >> Mhmm>> But you still have to know, especially if you're giving directions to folks from out of town, where the corner of walk and don't walk is >> Right. >> So you mark it on the corner. This is 23rd Street, this is, you know, Indiana Street, so you know, people can look at a standard map and say >> Right >> This is where we are, it's, it's all great to do the longitude latitude. But not everybody's carrying a G-P-S. But you know, you can send people to a corner of the, if they know you're on twenty-third and you keep going and you tell them, you know, half mile down, you'll find a Diana Street, start there. And get a guy go out and mark the streets, that was really... Because we saw it, and we were there less than sixteen hours after... Fourteen hours after, it's already done. >> hm. >> And, and the amount of work that your men and women accomplished, in the few short hours of daylight you had, and over that first evening, was phenomenal. I mean, you searched a fourteen mile long trail of devastation, did a primary search >> hm. >> of search and rescue. With basically, you know, the 120 or 130 people you had from the community. Right. And that's amazing. It was, it was a herculean effort what it amounted to. The folks that were, I can't say enough about, it speaks volumes about the character, the. Of the people that work here. that, you know, we never turned around. We never ran away. You know, we had a job to do. >> And not one complaint. >> No. >> I haven't heard one, I haven't heard one person say and would a fire service say, you know, is he in the room? I hate him? You know, he's gone, oh, he's, you know. None of that, I mean there's, there's a, the, the work ethic, the, the amount of work you got done, the way you handled it, unbelievable. >> No, it, it, it you know, all the credit goes to, to the folks that work here, and you know, the guys that are here. That responded to any come back every day. We haven't had anybody walk away and say okay, I can't deal with this, and they keep showing up. >> Well I think the leadership, it, and I would credit the leadership here too, I mean, I think there's been, and I don't mean just Mitch and yourself and the other guys with the, what is he called the Swiss Army General, Swiss admiral outfits. Not just the, the the upper echelon, but the leadership at the company officer level, and, and the leadership in the, in the community that, that you know, the, the church leaders, the, the city manager. I mean, there was a real sense of public service here. >> Yeah. >> And, and you could see it. It. >> I've lived here long enough to, to know that. That these folks aren't going to be taken out of by this. And, you know, the funny part is we, you know, we had people coming in from all over. There were two guys that were retired from FDMY that, we're working for the red cross. And they said they couldn't give anything away. They said they would drive down the street and they couldn't give anything away. Everybody would look at him going I'm fine go talk to him. >> Go to the next guy, he needs it more. So what did. As the ops guy, what does Joplin need right now? What would be the best thing that fire fighters that are listening right now, what, what do you, what, what do you guys need that your fellow fire fighters could do for ya. >> I, I think, the, the, you know, the biggest need is we've had such and out pouring of support. We're good on tools, we're good on, on gear, you know? We're doing okay there. the, the biggest challenge is that I've got to get these guys out. And we've got station 2 and station 4 in RVs, that don't work when, when it gets really hot. I've got to get them into temporary stations and then move forward and get permanent stations. but, you know, as far as equipment and, and, and things like that. We're, we're doing okay. I think we're gonna be fine. Okay. Cuz everybody wants to do something. Everybody wants to make sure you're okay. >> Just say a prayer and make sure that, that you know, you keep us in your thoughts and your prayers. Cuz it's a long road. >> Well, I mean at fire engineering we'll you need anything, you let us know. We'll put it out and, and- >> Appreciate that. >> We'll, we'll. Helping in any way we can. And, and again thank you for taking time to spend with us. I know you've got much better things to do. Trying to get your men relocated and taking care of your city. And for you to take the time this afternoon to spend with us. And we, we really wanted to get your story out so people could hear what a tremendous job you did. And, and yourself and all the men and women. Whether the Joplin Fire Department and Police Department too. Public Works Department and the City Manager. >> It was a team effort. >> Just the whole community. Just an amazing deal. While we were out there, you, we saw folks walking up with their gloves in their hands. How can I help? From their heart, and they weren't. Fool around, they wanna come to work >> Right >> They wanna help, >> Yup >> And we couldn't be, as Americans we couldn't be prouder of the fact that you often, the heartland of America is still a heartland, and you're the, you're a primary example of that, just that big broad shouldered, we'll get it done, check on the next guy kind of deal, so. Chief Jim Burkans with, on behalf >> Thank You. >> Everybody on America, all of the fire fighters are pride of you. >> Thanks. >> Thank you for what you did and if there's anything that we can do for ya, please let us know. >> Will do. >> Thank you Brian. >> Thanks. [MUSIC]

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