The Oklahoma City Bombing: Report and Analysis

The Oklahoma City Bombing: Report and Analysis

Message from the Governor: The Fire Service in Oklahoma City


The images of the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City have become worldwide icons, and many of them involve firefighters. From the classic photo of the firefighter cradling a mortally injured child to footage of grimy helmeted men and women during the agonizing recovery effort, America came to know Oklahoma and the public safety workers who came to our aid.

There were immense technical challenges behind those images. Many of the articles in this special Fire Engineering coverage address those challenges and describe how they were overcome, one by one, as dozens of agencies merged their skills and experience. If there is a central lesson to be found in Oklahoma City for the fire service, it is that rigorous training and preparation, combined with the creative use of innovation on the scene, can save and preserve lives.

The first companies on the scene on April 19 faced an unprecedented situation. Perhaps 1,000 injured victims, many demanding immediate critical care, were scattered over several square blocks. Dozens of burning automobiles clouded the air with dense smoke. And the shattered building itself presented a massive search and rescue problem, with victims buried in rubble at ground level and trapped in the gaping remains of the upper floors.

Tapes from the Oklahoma City Fire Department`s jammed radio frequencies tell a story of controlled chaos in those first few moments. Chief Gary Marrs and his officers swiftly detailed sector commands, shifting engine, truck, and squad companies to different locations. That`s where training and preparation played a vital role. Of those who could be saved from the building, all were. Of those who were injured, only one of those successfully transported to local hospitals ultimately died. April 19 was a masterpiece of emergency response, and it is no accident that those familiar with the details are already speaking of “The Oklahoma Standard.”

By midnight on April 19, the task became one of search and recovery in a bombed and shattered shell. Thousands of tons of warped concrete dangled from strands of rebar. There was a constant danger of further collapse (two first-day victims, a nurse and a building worker, had died under cascading rubble during the rescue effort).

That`s where local manpower came together with the expertise of the Federal Emergency Management Agency`s Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces. Eleven FEMA USAR Task Forces saw service in Oklahoma City during the two-week recovery process. It was a collaborative effort from Day One. I had the privilege of sitting in on a number of the strategy sessions as search and rescue experts wearing a dozen different agency patches operated as a single entity. The results are clear: Not one worker suffered a serious injury during the recovery process, and every missing victim was retrieved and identified.

The search and recovery teams faced yet another challenge. The Murrah Building and its immediate surroundings constituted a vast crime scene. Evidence collection and investigative teams from the FBI, ATF, and local law enforcement worked side by side with the recovery teams. Again, communication and coordination permitted these two often-conflicting functions to go forward with minimal difficulty.

On the night of May 4, recovery efforts ended at the site. The teams gathered there for a final time the next afternoon. It was a memorable and heartfelt memorial service, and again, every possible uniform and shoulder patch told a graphic story of teamwork and professionalism.

I pray that no American community will ever have to face an overwhelming tragedy on the scale of Oklahoma City. Sadly, our modern world can hold some ugly surprises. We should all be comforted by the knowledge that the professionals of our thousands of local fire services, backed by the resources of FEMA, are not just up to the challenge–they are prepared to transcend it.

No posts to display