Tornado drill comes to life
By Heather McDonald
Tim Peterson picked up the phone on the second ring.
“9-1-1, where’s your emergency?” he asked calmly. After a short pause, the Portage County dispatcher responded, “Glacier Hollow? Do you know the address?” Again, a short pause. “9289 Pavelski Road? What’s going on there?” Pause. “A tornado touched down? Ok, are people injured?” Still steady, he said, “About how many kids?”
The questions continued, Peterson confirmed what the caller relayed, and in between, Peterson radioed out, dispatching emergency medical responders (EMR) for a tornado touchdown with multiple injuries to the site.
It was 9:38 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28.
Nine minutes later, emergency personnel were on scene, calling for fire engines with chainsaws to cut downed trees so First Responders could access the camp, where about 30 people – most children between the ages of 6 and 12 – had been going through morning activities when high winds and the tornado struck.
EMR could only wait for the chainsaws to do their work as Pete Matthai, camp director, kept yelling, “Hurry, you’ve got to hurry up, people are hurt, they’re going to die if you don’t hurry.”
Several minutes after, the first two EMRs walked up to the incident command center and asked how to help. Incident Command Director Jerry Eron looked around puzzled.
“I don’t have a camp contact,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter, what are the next steps,” Amherst Fire District Deputy Chief Tom Bray said.
Eron looked at the two First Responders who were waiting for instruction. “You -” he pointed to one person, “start heading that way and you start heading that way. Look for anyone injured and keep me posted.”
No one asked for a map; no other information was provided, but the two EMRs set out in opposite directions into the wooded areas calling out to anyone who might respond.
In all, four children died. Six others had critical, life-threatening injuries, seven had less serious conditions that could turn critical, and six others had minor or no injuries. Four adults responsible for the children were uninjured.
It was only a drill, a mass casualty incident Amherst Fire District (AFD) performs every other year to train its personnel on how to handle such crisis situations.
“The training for our members was priceless,” Bray said afterwards. “These types of drills always point out procedural things we could be doing better, and this was no exception. There are things that could have gone better, but there’s a lot that went right, too.”
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