Mutual Aid

County leads Kentucky tornado relief

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Fire departments in Crawfordsville, Linden, West Lafayette, Frankfort and Kirklin came together last month to bring much-needed resources to the town of Mayfield, Kentucky, virtually flattened by an EF4 tornado on Dec. 10, 2021.

The three-day outbreak saw a total of 71 tornadoes, tracked through portions of Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, with Kentucky bearing the brunt. The disaster caused $3.9 billion in damages, killed 88 people and injured more than 400.

Mayfield, population 10,000, was the hardest hit, suffering 56 fatalities. Many were killed in the collapse of a candle factory housing more than 100 workers. The fire department there was completely destroyed.

“It ended up killing several people. The gentleman I spoke with said they were part of the extrication of the living and deceased people from that collapse. It was pretty bad,” said Montgomery County EMA Assistant Director Brian Campbell.

Campbell learned of the opportunity to help through Crawfordsville Fire Department Chief Scott Busenbark, whose family members live in the area. The two chose the EMA warehouse on Elmore Street as a distribution center to gather firefighting materials before hauling them to Kentucky.

What happened next was remarkable, he said. A few phone calls to other fire departments snowballed to the point the phones wouldn’t stop ringing.

“As the word spread, without asking for them, two departments donated fire trucks,” Campbell said. “I took a trailer down that was totally loaded. Things like bunker gear, boots, helmets, gloves, SCBA packs, hand tools, fire hoses — just a multitude of different items because they had virtually nothing left.”

The trucks were donated by Linden’s Madison Township Volunteer Fire Department and Frankfort Fire Department. The reserve trucks were in perfect working order and stored fully loaded with equipment, Campbell said, but were not in use.

“It was a good opportunity. When I got down there, that one fire engine from the city of Frankfort had only been there two days and they had already re-lettered it for the department,” Campbell, a former Frankfort firefighter, said. “It went immediately into service. That was nice to see when I got down there because that was one of the first trucks I worked on when I was a firefighter.”

The pandemic’s lingering effects have created an “astronomical” backup when ordering new equipment. Without the donations of other departments, Mayfield may have experienced up to 18 months of wait time for essential firefighting needs.

Any delays typically experienced when donating equipment, especially vehicles, were hastened via behind-the-scenes work by EMA Director Shari Harrington.

“She’s done that many times,” he said. “She’s responded to several tornadoes and hurricanes, so that just comes first nature to her.”

Madison Township Volunteer Fire Departmetn Chief Earl Heide and Frankfort Fire Department Chief Matt Stidham, who first suggested the donation of a fire engine, proved instrumental, Campbell added.

Further requests for assistance by Mayfield residents, and others affected by the rare December outbreak, will also be met.

“If they reach out, I will reach out again to the surrounding areas,” Campbell said. “Some of the ones that didn’t get the opportunity to donate may be able to next time.”

Those interested in donating to relief efforts may do so through the following methods: Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief; call the Red Cross at 1-800-HELP-NOW (1-800-435-7669); visit www.secure.kentucky.gov; or visit www.secure.americares.org. For more information, visit www.kentuckycounselingcenter.com.

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