COLUMBIA — Members of Missouri Task Force 1 returned to Boone County on Wednesday afternoon after assisting with the relief effort in Joplin. They were welcomed home by severe storms that forced them to immediately seek shelter along with family, friends, reporters and others avoiding the storm.
The 85 team members were deployed to Joplin early Monday morning. The team consisted of firefighters, engineers and physicians, among other civilians.
Chris Bosche’s first thought as Missouri Task Force 1 drove into Boone County Fire Protection District headquarters was to move to shelter.
As the task force moved to the center of the building because of severe weather, he realized his family was not in the same area.
“We were not all together," Bosche said. “I wanted to get to them, so I moved and found myself in a room full of reporters.”
Bosche and his family were in a safe room at the Fire District's headquarters with 13 reporters from Columbia and St. Louis.
Bosche, an emergency physician in St. Louis, was one of the members of Missouri Task Force 1 that came home on Wednesday afternoon from Joplin after assisting in the relief effort.
He was welcomed by his wife, Amy; daughter, Jennifer, 9; and son, Jacob, 6.
Amy Bosche said her husband received an alert from the task force concerning the situation in Joplin. The family receives calls like this frequently, Amy Bosche said, but "90 percent of the time, nothing happens."
Two hours later, Chris Bosche received another call, and he was out the door in 10 minutes to join the task force in Columbia before deploying to Joplin, she said.
During Chris Bosche's deployment, he was able to keep in contact with his family, Amy Bosche said. She received "very sporadic" text messages that were sometimes out of order, but she said she was still relieved to hear from him.
Chris Bosche drove from St. Louis on Sunday evening with other members of the team to join the task force in Boone County.
“We drove through the night and worked through the morning,” he said. “We found utter devastation.”
Bosche joined Task Force 1 in 1997 and has worked with the team at ground zero after 9/11 and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, among other deployments.
For him, the devastation in Joplin is the worst he has ever seen from a tornado.
Dave Weber had just come from mowing his lawn when he received the news that a tornado had struck Joplin.
Soon he got the notification to join other Task Force 1 members to go to Joplin and help with the rescue efforts.
Weber had just unpacked from a national training exercise in Indiana before packing again and hitting the road.
“What was disorienting is we got here at night," Weber said. "It was very chaotic when we got there. We got tasked really quickly and worked continuously for hours.”
Weber is a principal and chief structural engineer for Allstate Consultants of Columbia as well as a Task Force 1 member.
As a structural engineer with the team, his job is to ensure that any technical search and rescue recovery is done safely, he said.
“Sometimes there are precarious things, and they want the engineer's opinion on how to get the structural elements,” Weber said. “I am an asset that roams around and makes sure everybody is comfortable with what they are doing.”
Weber has been with the team since 1997 and first heard about the task force from an MU professor when he was studying for his master's degree in engineering.
He has worked with the team in various deployments, including Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 and 9/11. For him, the Joplin disaster ranks with the other two.
“The look, feel and amount of devastation on the population was really bad," he said.
Gerry Svendson and Kurt Deguisne
Gerry Svendson's drive to California on Wednesday afternoon was interrupted at 12:30 p.m. by severe weather warnings on the radio.
Svendson's son, Kurt Deguisne was driving her and her two cats, Mai Thai and Mai Zoe, to California from Illinois. Svendson is relocating so she can live closer to her two daughters.
Deguisne was driving on Interstate 70 when they heard the weather report of severe weather in Boone County and decided to get off the road, Deguisne said. They drove to Fire District headquarters.
“We were driving, and I saw the sign, so we drove in,” Svendson said.
Barely 15 minutes later, they were being ushered into a safe room in the building.
After the storm had passed, Deguisne and Svendson sat with their maps deciding what to do next. After consulting with family members on the phone and Fire District staff, they opted to continue with their journey.
By 3 p.m., they were back on the road driving toward Kansas City and hoping to get to California by Saturday.
Terry Cassil had just enough time with his family Sunday for his wife to do his laundry before he got the call from Missouri Task Force 1 to assist in Joplin.
Cassil, division chief for the Columbia Fire Department and a safety officer for the task force, spent the weekend at Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield participating in a training exercise with his colleagues in the task force.
Cassil has served on the task force for just more than a year. The Joplin tornado was his first deployment and the first time he had seen such destruction.
“This was just total devastation of such a big area, and it was just amazing,” he said.
After seeing the destruction, Cassil put himself in the place of the victims.
“Those poor people in that community deserve for us to come in and help out,” he said. “We would want someone to come here in this community if something were to happen.”
Cassil and other workers were tired after working nonstop, but he said the team was focused on safety and accomplishing their tasks.
“You don’t really think about time," he said. "It’s either light or it’s dark. It doesn’t really matter. You just work until the job’s done and then take a break, and then we do it again.”
Cassil said teamwork is what gets the job done.
“Our training teaches us from day one that we are a team,” he said. “We stay together. We work together. We come home together.”
Chico Dog and Kathleen Kelsey
Chico Dog, a four-legged member of Missouri Task Force 1, played an important role in the Joplin relief effort.
Chico Dog is certified with the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a live search and rescue dog. He was one of four dogs deployed with the task force. Along with Kathleen Kelsey, a canine rescue specialist, Chico Dog was in charge of searching for individuals who might be trapped in collapsed structures.
Chico Dog’s keen nose is able to track a person’s scent. He then uses a repetitive bark to indicate a discovery, which gives the rescue team a specific location for a possible victim.
Chico Dog and Kelsey did not have any live finds in Joplin, but they were able to assist individuals around their homes.
Kelsey started working with Chico Dog this year and said they get along well.
“Chico is quite the loveable pooch,” she said. “He is perfectly happy to make his rounds and try to get lovin’ off the other 84 members of the team.”
Matt Schofield was working at the Jefferson City Fire Department when he got the call Sunday to mobilize.
At the time, he had seen some television footage of the tornado but did not know how bad it actually was.
“We were not able to appreciate the scope of the devastation,” he said. “The thing that was most striking about this was just the amount of widespread devastation.”
Schofield has worked with the task force for 14 years. He assisted at ground zero in New York and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
His goal in Joplin was to coordinate the search effort. He said the team did a “wide-area search” of Joplin.
This type of search takes buildings into consideration as well as the surrounding area including land, trees, rivers and creeks, he said.
“If we can’t visualize something, we use canine resources, technical tools and thermal imaging cameras," he said.
Schofield said he is satisfied with the work of his team.
“I feel like we were able to respond quickly and to get there in a really critical point of the incident,” he said. “The incident will go on for years for these folks, but we were able to meet their needs in a way only our team could.”