The Edmond Sun

Local News

June 14, 2013

Firefighters, police aid growing list of communities

(Continued)

EDMOND — CALL OF A LIFETIME

For most fire service recruits, a memorable first call would be assisting on a structure fire, something that doesn’t happen every day. Edmond’s nine recruits got to experience the call of a lifetime.

 On May 20, they were near I-35 and Covell in a classroom at the fire administration campus. They were going through a lesson on self-contained breathing apparatus, better known in the fire service as SCBAs, when the massive tornado was heading toward Moore.

Coverage of the event was being shown on the television in the room. The EF-5 tornado damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and other structures including a hospital and two elementary schools.

At about 3:30 p.m., Edmond Fire Department leadership met just outside the classroom. The recruits — Dustin Bowman, 21, of Guthrie, Jason Dillon, 26, of Midwest City, Johnny Gibson, 32, of Edmond, Izea Lovejoy, 24, Hilo, Hawaii, Taylor Mick, 23, of Bethany, Cody Sanders, 23, of Moore, Tyler Smith, 23, of Edmond, Jacob Stangl, 25, of Kingfisher, and Craig Williamson, 35, of Charlottesville, Va., learned they would be heading into Moore.

Lovejoy said for a couple of hours, the recruits had been decked out in full SCBA gear and taking notes when Capt. Gregory Westermier, a member of a related task force, began monitoring TV coverage. Sanders was excused to check on his family situation in Moore.

“After they came back in they said get your stuff, we’re going,” Lovejoy said. “We got all of our gear together. We didn’t really know what to expect. I figured since we are the new guys we’d just get to do a lot of the grunt work.”

At about 4:15 p.m., the recruits headed down to Moore. They checked in at a command post and received their assignments. Lovejoy was extremely familiar with the city, where he served as a restaurant manager for a couple of years.

“For me, it kind of hit home,” he said.

It was the first fire service call for Lovejoy, who was assigned to a task force and was one of the first recruits on scene. Civilians were trying to get out of the affected area. Lovejoy went to Plaza Towers Elementary School, which suffered extensive damage. He recalls standing atop rubble that had been a school wall and seeing concrete slabs that used to be the foundation of houses.

“It looked like somebody had just dropped a bomb and that it was the end of the world,” Lovejoy said.

Williamson, who has 12 years of fire service experience on his résumé, said people live their whole lifetimes and never see something of the magnitude of the destruction in Moore.

At the school, Williamson said responders had received different reports about where victims were likely to be, last known locations. It was a matter of removing debris without threatening victims who might be in a pocket, he said. He could make out walls that were lying on their side.

Williamson understood the responders had a job to do and the faster the work could be done the more lives could be possibly saved. Debris was removed via a bucket brigade type line.

Each person reacts to an incident differently.

“For myself, it didn’t hit me until I got home with my wife,” Williamson said, the emotion detectable in his voice. “And it’s still tough to talk about.”

Mick said when he learned he would be assisting with operations at the school his main thought was getting to those who were in the school. At the site, the debris was removed sometimes one brick at a time. He picked up children’s’ shoes, lunch pails and arts and crafts items. In what was a classroom, all the walls had fallen but one, where a line of backpacks were still hanging.

That night, at home, Mick thought about his life and how the destruction puts things in perspective.

“Don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “Life, snap your fingers, it can be gone. Live your life to the fullest. And every chance you get try to make a difference.”

marks@edmondsun.com | 341-2121, ext. 108

 

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