7.17.2016

Going Back For Seconds

I had the opportunity to rejoin my Greyshirt friends down south for some more tornado recovery work this weekend and I am so grateful for it. Given that this was my first real 'op', it was great to see how it evolved. There were a lot of moving parts in all of it as well as a few monkey wrenches thrown in for good measure.

The day after I was there the first time, the Incident Commander's mom had a stroke and the she had to return home. That left someone else in charge and there were a lot of adjustments that had to be made on the fly. One thing I'm finding with TR is that, while there are SOPs in place and we do, for the most part, adhere to FEMA standards and protocols, that really only governs the BIG picture. How each IC handles the day-to-day and minute-to-minute tasks is pretty much up to them (taking into consideration the team with which they are working and the individual styles that may be in play). Some people are visual and like graphs and charts and whatnot. Others prefer the data and information to be presented in digital format. Others are verbal. What works for one may not work for all. So it was interesting to have left when there was one form of organization in place and to come back to find a totally different form of organization in place. And I saw the strengths of both.

Saturday was a busy morning spent doing some debris removal, waiting for the sawyer teams to work their magic and clear some limbs that were threatening our workspace - no point in laying a tarp on a roof only to have that tarp damaged by a limb that falls the next time a strong gust of wind blows through. I mean, it IS Kansas. Once they were done, we were able to lay a tarp on the roof where something had punched a very large hole completely through the roof into and through the ceiling inside. The homeowner was this sweet lady...we'll call her M...and she was just the nicest person. She explained that she and her pup rode out the storm in her closet. Thankfully she has a daughter that lives in a nearby state that was able to come and get her following the storm so she had been able to avoid most of the chaos as the town started to clean up.

Once we were done there, we took care of a few loose ends and were heading back to the FOB when we passed some of our teammates that told us they were on their way out to do a quick damage assessment on a property outside the city limits that had sustained significant damage and had not yet received much in the way of help. He (the homeowner) had just found out about us and was asking for our help. Did we want to come along? Of course we did. We drove for a good 15-20 minutes and then crested the hill where the damage lay.

It was breathtaking. The swath the tornado carved was probably 1/4 to 1/2 mile wide and stretched for at least 2 before it lifted and then bounced southeast into town, skipping over the rolling Flint Hills. This gentleman's house had been standing there since the early 1900s and the only thing left after the tornado came through was a commode. Everything else was gone. Pieces of the siding and roof were wrapped around trees that had been twisted and spun and broken like blades of grass under my lawnmower. The devastation is indescribable. Even on video, it's difficult to grasp the magnitude of loss. And this was just ONE property. I've listened to the TR people that were involved with the Joplin, MO recovery and that one involved hundreds, if not thousands, of structures. This was just one house, but to S (the homeowner) it was everything. He was holding up really well but you could tell that the shock he must have felt in those first few days was giving way to a weariness that he was feeling in his bones.

It was overwhelming to look around and see so much devastation. Where do you begin? Thankfully, the homeowner, his brother, and his niece had already been making impressive headway, given that there were only 3 of them. But it was time to call in the reinforcements. We had a high school group and a Boy Scout group on the ground that would be able to lend a hand in terms of manpower. And S, the homeowner, had solid plans for where debris should go and what he was going to do about it. That helped immensely.


What was left of S's house.

What it did to the trees was mind-boggling.



Saw teams gearing up to work.

Debris removal.

Praying with the STEM team from Wichita, the homeowner, and his family, as the day wraps up. 
We beat feet back to the FOB, passing a local swimming hole on our way (I'll write another post purely about that later) and grabbed supplies and lunch. And water - lots of water. 90°F and 75% humidity...it was HOT. By the time we got back, we had lost the Scouts but came to find the high school student group hard at work. They were like ants - work, work, work, form lines, carry, etc. They made quick work of the majority of the debris. Once our sawyer teams arrived, we were able to make good headway on getting a lot of the vegetative debris taken care of. And then it was time to go. It broke my heart to walk away without being done. But the consensus was that we may not have been able to get it all done but what we did was good.

In the end, the Op wound up being extended one more day in order to give the teams time to wrap up some loose ends on work orders and spend some more time helping S at his property. I'm looking forward to hearing how the extra day went as I had to head home after dinner. Dinner was great and we were able to present the county emergency manager with his first official TR greyshirt. He took time away from one of his jobs (not only is he the county EM but he also runs a tree-trimming business in town and had his own saws and bucket truck which was a HUGE blessing for us!) to help us out and I can't tell you how grateful we are to him. He is also my newest state TR recruit!

The one thing that really struck me in all of this is that people would thank me. And, while I get that and appreciate it and do my best to accept it gracefully, what they don't realize is that being involved with TR and helping people out gives me SO MUCH more than I give to them.


My heart is full.


Full beyond measure.





- hfs

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