Rogers Firefighters Look Back on Joplin Tornado

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Tuesday, May 22nd marks one year since the massive EF-5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo., leveling 30 percent of the city and killing 161 people.

The tornado was more than half a mile wide and tore a path 13 miles long, damaging or destroying more than 7,000 homes.

When disaster struck just to our north, the Rogers Fire Department was among several local agencies to respond.

Fire Chief Tom Jenkins says his department only spent 48 hours in Joplin but his team was able to use that experience to make improvements at home. At the beginning of May, the Rogers Fire Department received new 'shoring and bracing' equipment to help with rescues from collapsed buildings. The team also got new trailers to haul the equipment in.

“We have better equipment, our training is better and we know that these kinds of things do happen from time to time and so it does have a silver lining,” said Chief Jenkins.  

Firefighters worked through that night digging through the rubble, searching for survivors.

“We were part of some of those retrievals later into the day at Home Depot and things like that where we started to pull out some of those fatalities,” said Fire Capt. Dennis Thurman.  

Chief Jenkins said their department has chosen to not let the images of mass destruction scar them. Instead, they have shifted their attention to the silver lining.

“Although it was a significant tragedy, it did help us become better prepared and it has created a much better response platform in Northwest Arkansas,” he said.  

Despite having more experience, new equipment and better training, Capt. Thurman said the images from that day still hold strong.

“The most memorable for me is just the loss on people`s faces,” said Capt. Thurman. “Those that did survive, you know, kind of standing in the driveway of what, just several minutes prior, had been their home, and they just have that lost look. I mean just standing in their driveway, crying.”

Chief Jenkins said the memories of the Joplin tornado will forever stay with his team.

President Barack Obama will deliver the commencement address for the 400 graduating seniors Monday night.