Despite winds, Proctorville fire department still standing strong

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 11, 2024

PROCTORVILLE — As they waited for Gov. Mike DeWine to arrive at the Proctorville Volunteer Fire and Rescue building on Friday afternoon, firefighters were chowing down on food generously donated by community members and talked about where they were on Tuesday, April 2 when the big wind hit the fire station.

A sign outside summed up their situation — “We are still standing.”

Some were in the fire station with their kids when they heard the roof tear off the back of the station. One was in his garage across the alley way when that roof hit the roof of his garage.

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They had trouble contacting 911 emergency dispatch. Not only had the electric gone out, their antennae had been knocked out of commission.

But everyone was uninjured and they had to get out and see how the community of Proctorville had been affected.

On Friday, much of the debris at the rear of the fire station had been moved out of the way, although there were drifts of white Styrofoam that had once been roof insulation.

Four fire trucks were still inside the broken space with steel roof supports sitting on top of them.

One was an antique red Proctorville Fire Department truck from 1926 that had been restored after being in a barn for decades.

“We had just gotten it back and we were working on finding a clutch plate assembly for it,” said firefighter Tyler Hamlin. “It was going to be fully operational and be another parade truck for us.”

The other parade truck was the “Screaming Demon,” which was named for the sound of its siren.

“That’s a 1950 truck,” he said. “It is damaged too.”

There were also two other fire engines in the bay, including one used mainly for brush fires.

That does not leave the fire department without trucks since their front-line trucks they use on a regular basis were in front bays and were undamaged.

Their firefighting gear was stored in the back bay when the roof collapsed.

“As far as we can tell, none of the gear took any damage. It got waterlogged but that is what fire gear is for,” Hamlin said.

Hamlin pointed out where the roof of the bay flew across the alley and landed on the garage of Captain Brian Taylor who was in there when the wind ripped through. He was working on one of the firefighter’s car when it all happened.

Taylor said he was concerned about getting his show truck out of the rain and pulled it into the back of the fire department.

“By the time I ran across the alley to the garage, it was like I had jumped in a pool, there was so much rain,” he said. He was trying to close his garage doors, fighting against a wind he said “sounded like a freight train.”

“Part of the roof hit my garage and another beam took out my back porch of my house, so I couldn’t get out of either door,” he said. Once the wind died down, he got out and his first thought was Billy and Travis because he knew they were in the fire station.

“I started hollering for them. Once I saw the building had collapsed, I thought “Oh, my God.” They had just been in the back bay with me,” Taylor said. “I was afraid they were all dead. It was pretty scary.”

Captain Travis Hoke was using a device that reads wind speed and stuck his arm out the door with the device and watched measure the air speed at about 15 mph. Then 26 mph. Then 34 mph. Then 45 mph.

“Then the door slammed shut on my arm. I put the equipment up and called my wife. I had told her to bring the kids here for refuge. I told her it was too late, just go to my gramma’s,” Hoke said.

He said as he got off the phone, the sky had turned black.

Captain Bill Sawyers was outside with his daughter when the wind picked up and she said she was going inside to get out of it.

“I think we should all head back inside,” he said.

Hoke said he heard Sawyers yell “Everyone to the bathroom now.” 

“As I was walking around the tanker, I looked out the door to the bay, which is always open, and I saw daylight,” Hoke said. He told the others that the back bay was gone. “I hollered to make sure Billy was okay and he was already on his way to see if we were okay.”

With everyone safe and accounted for, they had to spring into action. 

“We had to go from dealing with uncertainties to putting on our game faces and go to work to take care of our community,” Sawyer said.

They first contacted 911 using a cell phone to call one of the dispatchers directly since the electric was out and the antennae was down. They told dispatch that they had just had a structure collapse and then called for mutual aid from neighboring fire stations

They also got in contact with Rome Township Volunteer Fire Department for assistance and they arrived within minutes. The Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department also arrived.

“Then we got into our trucks and went out to check on the community immediately,” Hamlin said. “We didn’t know what to expect, we just went business to business to make sure no one was trapped.”

First responders helped shut down the village and checked out their equipment and set up a generator to make power the station.

They were still running off the generator on Friday afternoon.