Three Joplin Firefighters Share Their Story Of Survival

6 years 10 months 3 days ago Monday, July 18 2011 Jul 18, 2011 Monday, July 18, 2011 7:49:00 PM CDT July 18, 2011 in News
By: Michelle Bogowith
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Two Joplin firestations were part of the 7000 buildings destroyed by the destructive tornado, but immediately after the twister ripped through the town, firefighters were working out of RV's with little sleep and no air condition. For three of those firefighters, the May 22 tornado is not a distant memory.

Deputy Fire Chief Jim Perkins said he remembered when he first saw the tornado...

"...About that time the local Channel 7 meteorologist Doug Heady had broken in and turned the tower camera they have up here at 7th and Rangeline and pointed it due west," Perkins said. "As soon as I saw that I looked at my wife and said, 'That's a tornado. I gotta go. I'll see you next week.'"

Driver engineer Jeff Turner was in the station when it happened.

"In the station you could hear the tornado coming," Turner said. "It was just like people say. It sounds like several hundred train engines. We heard a pounding at the front door and one of our guys ran up there and answered the door. There were five individuals, [we] got them inside and got them down the corridor into the captains quarters."

Firefighter and paramedic Eric Strasser recounted what he remembers.

"You could kind of just feel the station coming apart around you; there was insulation flying around," Strasser said. "It kinda came in two waves, just a big blow through the station. You could feel the wind from it, your ears were popping, you kinda thought it was over and then it came back again and it was even worse the second time."

"The whole time I'm thinking, 'that's a tornado I have been through tornadoes before,'" Perkins said. "I expected to see trees down, roofs gone, but by the time I got to 20th and Main Street I started to see buildings actually collapsed."

Strasser said one of these buildings included the fire station.

"There was nothing left of the garage that we had," Stasser said. "The engine bay -- we kind of just grabbed what tools we could off the engine and put them in one of the personnel vehicles that was still drivable. We came out of it and looked at it and assessed the situation. Then we had to go to work."

Now, firefighters from Station 4 are working under a new roof. Even with the new station, there are still challenges.

"This station still has no computer access but we have phones," Perkins said. "We don't have phones at Station 2. So it's the hit and miss as far as the technology goes."

One new addition has helped to put their minds at ease, a twister safe. According to Perkins, it's a safe that can withstand winds in excess of 200 miles per hour.

"Ours for this station is just outside the back door," Perkins said. "They're not big, I can tell you that. But they are big enough to accommodate the four individuals that are at each of the stations."

The safe isn't very big and the fire station isn't permanant, but the message is loud and clear to the residents of Joplin.

"I thought that it was as important to the psyche of the folks that live here to see that we are still here, we didn't go anywhere," Perkins said. "Yeah, our buildings got damaged and destroyed, same as theirs did, but we never left. We're not gonna run away, we're not gonna sit in the corner and hide, we're going to continue to do the job that the folks pay us for."

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