First responders speak out about Chetek tornado aftermath

Some of the first paramedics to arrive at the mobile home park devastated by the Chetek, Wisconsin, tornado are telling their stories.

Mitch Rice, a paramedic with Lakeview Medical Center in Rice Lake, Wis., was the first paramedic to arrive. Others, including Brenda Kruger and Jordan Barahona, arrived minutes later.

“It looked like a bomb had went off. Just houses absolutely shredded, blown over on top of each other, people covered in debris, dry wall, insulation, bloody. Just unreal,” Kruger said.

“Shellshocked is a good term for it. There was a sense of disbelief. You could see it in their eyes. They couldn’t believe it had actually happened,” said Barahona.

“There were eight to 10 injured folks walking straight towards us,” said Rice. “The injured covered in debris, needing help, that was kind of surreal. Initially, it takes a couple seconds to collect yourself, and then we do what we’ve been trained to do.”

The paramedics, along with many other first responders, started triaging the victims. The walking wounded, many with “blunt force trauma” and cuts, were loaded onto ambulances. One ambulance took six victims.

Paramedics then focused on the more severely wounded, some who could not walk; others were being pulled from underneath debris.

“We couldn’t imagine what they had already gone through. And now we’re trying to pull them from their chaos into this semi-organized method,” said Rice.

The three paramedics who spoke all expressed shock when describing the moment they first saw the mobile home park. “It literally took your breath way,” said Kruger. The paramedics also agreed it was “amazing” only one person died, given the extent of the damage.

The paramedics said their training helped them maintain focus on treating the victims. “If you’ve got two patients, you’ve got to focus on those two. Don’t worry about everything else that’s going on around you,” said Kruger.

When asked about their work on that Tuesday evening, the paramedics remained humble. “I don’t think we did anything exceptional other than what everybody else did,” said Rice.

Instead, the paramedics expressed gratitude for everyone else’s contributions. “The turnout was simply amazing,” said Barahona.

The week of May 15-21 is Emergency Medical Services Week.