Photo credit: Jay Ransom
Photo credit: Jay Ransom
Photo credit: Jay Ransom
At least two fire stations were left in ruins Sunday night after a series of tornados ripped through the Midwest and killed more than 30 people in Missouri, Kansas and Tennessee.
A tornado hit Station One at the Battlefield, Missouri Fire Protection District between 6 and 7 p.m. Sunday evening, demolishing it and numerous area homes and businesses. "It just literally cut a swath right through the center of town," said fire department Chief Jerry Sparkman.
The Madison County Fire Department in west Tennessee also lost one of their stations when a tornado tore through their region at about 11:30 p.m., said Chief Kelly Holmes. And this isn't the first time. They also lost a fire station during a tornado in 1999. "We don't want to make a habit of it, I'll tell you that," the chief said.
Sparkman said his town looked like it had been bombed. "We're trying to get the apparatus out from under the station and get it to the shop," he said while on the scene Monday afternoon.
"I'm surveying a field - there's ten homes gone, absolutely leveled," Sparkman said. He said that interestingly, the older houses, which are about 75 years old, withstood the storm much better than the newer houses, which he attributes to stronger lumber.
The Battlefield Fire Protection District has three volunteer stations and one full time station. Station One was a volunteer station that also served as the district's administration and training center. The building will have to be cleared away down to the slab and completely rebuilt. "This puts a lot of hardship on our training capabilities," the chief said. Two other stations sustained some minor damage.
There was one death in the Battlefield area and many minor injuries, but no serious injuries.
There were six vehicles in Station One when it got hit. As of Monday afternoon they had retrieved four from the wreckage. One engine needs new lights, a new ladder and body work, and one tanker was destroyed. A heavy rescue and another tanker are still driveable. "We're lucky in that respect," Sparkman said.
The chief said the department purchased a backhoe several months ago and joked that they are finally getting a chance to train on it as they use it to tear the wreckage of the fire station away from the apparatus inside.
He said the 8.5 acres of property at the station are also littered with downed trees and bits of wreckage from mobile homes that they planned to use for training. They used to have 11 mobile homes but now have just four.
"All in all it's just a massive mess. We're working to get it cleaned up," Sparkman said. An insurance adjuster had already visited the site and the department expects their losses to be covered, he said.
In the meantime, the department's other stations are covering Station One's territory, and the city of Springfield's fire department, as well as several others, have provided assistance. Sparkman said that on Sunday night, nine of the 13 departments in the county were on the scene, and they actually have more help than they can use. "It's been an overwhelming outpouring of people wanting to help," he said.
The department has 35-40 volunteers and 16 paid members. Those who weren't cleaning up at the station Monday were still helping to clear roads, working at an area command center, and running calls. Sparkman said they are looking at several weeks of work, and they don't even expect the town to get its power back for five or six days.
"But all in all we're doing pretty good," he said.
Madison County firefighters also face the task of getting their apparatus out from their wrecked station. Holmes said the concrete blocks of the station's walls came crashing down on top of three vehicles housed inside the building, and they have no idea yet how badly the vehicles are damaged. When this happened to them in 1999, they were able to replace the cabs on the crushed vehicles and return them to service.
Holmes said there were 11 deaths in the county, and there are still two people missing. The post office may be damaged beyond repair, as well as at least one school and many other buildings and homes. He said the 168-member combination fire department has enough manpower to handle the local cleanup, and firefighters are busily clearing away fallen trees and debris from the roads.
The firefighters faced the most tragic task Sunday night, as they searched for people and bodies trapped in the debris of their own homes. "There were some people still alive and we had to dig down to get them out," Holmes said.
Other stations are now covering Station 16's territory. None of the department's other stations were seriously damaged, and although they aren't sure yet, Madison County fire officials believe that that their losses will be covered by insurance.
"It's time to not look back, and start over," Holmes said. "We're sorry about the families that lost loved ones. And I can't give the firefighters enough praise for the work they do and because they put their lives on the line on every call."
Related: Battlefield Fire Protection District