SALT LAKE CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief Don Berry Personnel: 346 career firefighters Apparatus: Three ladders, 12 pumpers, seven paramedic units, one hazmat unit Population: 180,000 Area: 100 square miles Before Aug. 11, 1999, the last time a tornado passed through Salt Lake City, the...
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The two tents, one slightly larger than the other, had been erected for an Outdoor Market Retailers show. They were large, same-type temporary structures, approximately 20 to 30 yards across and approximately 900 feet long. The center height was 30 feet. The walls were heavy canvas supported by a skeleton of aluminum I beams. Carpet had been laid over the raised wooden floors.
The tents contained various-size booths, display areas and connecting aisles. One of the tents displayed a three-sided rock-climbing wall. The structures were side by side and it was the smaller one that collapsed. Lots near the tents were given over to parking space for attendees.
"On the southwest part of the collapsed structure there were people under the tent," Dale said. "Our biggest problem on the incident was that we had so many walking wounded coming at us from all directions. Many people self-extricated. Our first job was to triage. Propane tanks one-half block south of the incident were leaking. They were quickly stabilized." The leak occurred at the Salt Palace that was subsequently evacuated.
Every available paramedic was enroute. The lobby of the Wyndham Hotel was cleared of glass and used as a triage center. Several things were happening almost simultaneously. Hazmat teams were used with search and rescue while 20 ambulances (80 personnel) arrived on the scene. The area had been showered with broken glass from the hotel that also lost six vent covers from the roof and canvas-like roof membrane. Trees were down and miscellaneous objects, large and small and all of them potentially deadly missiles, had been thrown through the air.
The injured were mostly ambulatory and suffered from cuts, scrapes, bruises and fractures. Some left by car, some walked away and some went to local hospitals later. Sixty-one people were transported by EMS ground units and two were medivaced by helicopter. Utah Transit Authority buses were also pressed into service.
Rocky Mountain Search and Rescue Dog, the canine representative for Salt Lake Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1, also was called in. Nancy Hachmeister, call-out coordinator, said, "I just got back from lunch and was in my office - we're a block away from the Delta Canter - when I saw the tornado coming straight toward me. Transformers were blowing at the Delta Center. The dogs were 10 minutes away at my house. I was on the scene with the dogs between 2 and 2:30 P.M. We got right through. We were diverted (by police) around downed trees.
"We use 20 dogs: German shepherds, border collies, mixes, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, rottweilers and one weimaraner. The dogs are off-lead all the time and are used to working in an unstable environment. The dogs are multi-trained because we never know when someone is alive or dead. On 'live' (command), when the dogs are looking for a live person, they bark a lot. On 'non-live' they're more passive. They'll sit down, paw the immediate area, you can tell the difference in the body language of the dog … We had at least five minor hits. The fire department cut holes in the plywood flooring so the dogs could get through. They're also multi-trained for avalanches, wilderness rescues, water, tracking, trailing, and evidence. We worked for 11/2 hours on non-live passes and 30 minutes on live passes."
A Close Call
Captain Jeff Spencer of Rescue Engine 2 also had a close brush with the tornado.
"We were enroute to another call and passed the tornado," he said. "We thought it was a dust devil. We were driving through downed tree limbs. There were a lot of damaged buildings. The tornado had already hit in the western part of the city. When we saw it, we were a block away, heading west as it was heading east. At that time, we had no reports of damage. We knew something was happening downtown …
"The city streets were hard to get through. Roads were closed off by police. There was traffic trying to get everywhere. There was a heavy police presence. Later, we tried to respond to a call and all of the downtown area was closed. City workers on heavy loaders were clearing up tree limbs, primarily sycamore and pine trees. Late at night, things slowed down."