Storms confront Task Force 1 as it returns home

Eighty-five team members completed their mission in tornado-stricken Joplin
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 | 8:28 p.m. CDT
Brian Strong, a rescue squad officer for Task Force 1, packs up his gear at Boone County Fire Protection offices Wednesday afternoon to head home after the crew returned from its assignment in Joplin. "My real job is working for State Farm Insurance," said Strong, who has spent 15 years volunteering for Task Force 1.

COLUMBIA — Members of Boone County's Missouri Task Force 1 were welcomed home from Joplin by storms that forced them to seek shelter in the center of the Boone County Fire Protection headquarters Wednesday afternoon.

“We were basically trying to outrun the storm because it was right behind us," Terry Cassil, Columbia Fire Department division chief and Missouri Task Force 1 member, said. "We wanted to get here and get shelter."

The team departed Joplin for Columbia on Wednesday morning and had to take a longer route because of threatening storms in western Missouri, fire district Battalion Chief Gale Blomenkamp said.

Some of the team members had driven their personal vehicles to Joplin and went directly home while about 50 others drove to headquarters, Blomenkamp said.

The team arrived in Columbia around 1:30 p.m. and immediately sought shelter from the impending storm before debriefing and unpacking.

Some family members and friends were there to welcome the crew, which completed its mission late Tuesday evening.

Jennifer Bosche, 9, and her brother Jacob, 6, of Ballwin were given the choice to either go to school Wednesday or see their father, Chris Bosche, return home.

For Jennifer, it was an easy decision.

“It was just like that,” she said. “I want to go see Dad.”

Missouri Task Force 1 was deployed to Joplin early Monday morning to help search for survivors and victims of Sunday’s devastating tornado. The 85 team members and their 100,000 pounds of equipment were on the scene by 3 a.m. Monday.

The Task Force 1 leader Doug Westhoff said the team was tasked quickly and dispatched to the Home Depot on Monday morning because it had the equipment to get through collapsed slabs of concrete.

“As the light came up, we realized what the environment around us looked like,” Westhoff said. “As far as the eye could see was devastation. It was surreal.”

The death toll in Joplin had risen to 125 by Wednesday evening.

Westhoff said that from the time they received the call to mobilize, the team worked continuously for almost 36 hours before getting some rest and food. It resumed work on Tuesday morning.

As the members changed into clean clothes and headed home, they were on alert about the weather situation in Missouri and the chances of being called back.

“With the severe weather we have had this afternoon and expected in the evening, the potential exists that we could go out the door again,” Westhoff said. “And we are ready to go.”

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