Owasso Storm Trackers Find Storms - Then Help Victims
OWASSO, Oklahoma - When severe weather strikes, storm trackers are usually first on the scene. One team from here in Green Country is turning that into an opportunity to save lives.
They're the new breed of storm trackers.
Owasso husband and wife Sean and Trisha Wilson were rolling into Joplin in 2011 just as the killer tornado hit. Along with Tim Crone, they are founders of Rolling Thunder Disaster Response Team.
Their goal: find the tornado, then find victims to rescue.
The idea began when Sean arrived immediately after a tornado flattened Greensburg, Kansas in 2007.
"Just sat beside people and tried to comfort them, and nothing I could do - it was the most helpless feeling I've ever had in my life," said Sean Wilson, storm tracker.
This helplessness convinced Sean and Trisha they had to do more.
"You can't drive by. You can't say, well, I'm sorry that happened to them. You have to stop and do something," Trisha Wilson said.
Trained in advanced first aid and search & rescue, the team's mission is to fill the gap between when a tornado hits and when first responders arrive - sometimes that's more than an hour.
"Those first few minutes - those golden moments that you know when a person's hurt and needs help. If we can locate them quick and get them help, then I think we're going to save a lot of lives," Sean said.
The team tracked the EF-5 tornado that destroyed part of Joplin, and in the moments thereafter transported nearly 30 victims to Freeman Hospital before first responders arrived.
"That's the most difficult part, when you see a human body that is damaged and hurt - that's the worst part of what we do, and that can affect a person deeply," he said.
The experience inspired them to not only continue their medical relief efforts following a tornado, but to expand the team and its resources across Oklahoma.
"We can't be everywhere at one time, but if we have teams all around the state, we can get to those areas quicker and be more effective in what we're doing," Owasso storm tracker Sean Wilson said.
Through grants and sponsors, this non-profit group plans to have an Emergency Response Vehicle to tow behind their chase truck.
"The emergency response vehicle - it's capable of driving through water. It can drive through a lake. It can go over debris. Really, there's nothing that's going to stop this vehicle," Sean said.
There are many places storm chasers and first responders can't get to easily when a tornado rips through a community. With this new ability to reach victims faster, these storm chasing medics can reduce the human toll the disasters cause.
They're very clear: they are not taking the place of first responders. In fact, they're working closely with many local first responders, medical personnel and fire departments to initiate the rescue efforts.
"By no means are we trying to step on their toes or take their place," Trisha Wilson said. "We're just trying to give them some assistance. We can kind of speed up the process because they've got a difficult job as it is."
Difficult and heart-wrenching.
"You cannot go through something like that and just have your brain shut off. It doesn't work like that," Trisha said.
But Trisha and the team know the toll it takes on them is nothing compared to the joy in saving even one life.
Reunions with those they helped save in Joplin - including young people - will live in their hearts forever.
"I didn't think we were ever going to stop hugging him. His mom hugged me so hard and she said 'thank you for saving my son. I love my son so much,'" she said.
Sean and Trisha hope to incorporate a drone, a full medical and search & rescue team and several off-road trucks into their expanding operation.
By the way, Sean was storm chasing Sunday in Joplin and Arkansas.