As I sit watching the news footage of the tornado that hit Old Towne Petersburg, Pocahontas Island, and then the Wal- Mart in Colonial Heights, I thought I would share my remembrance of that day: Aug. 6, 1993.
There are some firefighters who will read this story and not be one bit surprised that I was working that day. I was working traded time at Station 14, where I started the day riding Engine 14, then Unit 143. There were four of us on the engine that day: John, George, Greg, and me.
As the storm hit, we were first dispatched to Bensley Rescue Squad to put another ambulance in service. I think John, the engine lieutenant, decided that we would go on the tech rescue unit, Unit 149. When we got to Bensley, Greg wanted to be on the ambulance. I took over driving Unit 149. We were all dispatched to the Prince George Bridge on I-295 for a tractor trailer that had overturned. This incident was on the Enon-Varina Bridge, and it would be handled by other units, but we were headed south on I-295. John was listening to other localities, which was much more difficult back then. He stated that a tornado had hit the Wal-Mart in Colonial Heights and thought that we were going to be dispatched there. We were approaching the exit for Route 36, so I told John we would be there quickly if he let me know before we passed that exit. We were dispatched to the Wal- Mart, got off on Route 36, turned onto Temple Ave., and arrived at the Wal- Mart shortly after being dispatched.
I remember the surreal view as we pulled up. There were people standing on the concrete wall that had collapsed, trying to break through the concrete that had fallen on victims in the front of the store. Once I set the brake, John – who was telling us the multiple stages of search and rescue in a major building collapse as he pulled up – got reassigned. His expertise got him moved to the command staff for this incident. George and I got assigned to different crews shoring walls and doing structural assessments. Eleven hours after our arrival, we were reunited with John and returned to Fire Station 14.
There was an off-duty Chesterfield firefighter in the Wal-Mart that day, a humble man named Kenny. I cannot tell you the number of people that he was credited with helping that day. I remembered his depiction of racks falling and high water flowing down the aisles. I know that he received an award for his actions that day.
Anytime that John and I worked together, we went to some of the craziest calls. This one went down as one of the most memorable.