June 18, 2011
By Richard Polen -- The Joplin Globe
|Globe/B.W.Shepherd Keegan Tinney
(second from left), flanked by his father,
Rusty (left), sisters Kaitlin (front ) and
Shelby (right) and future brother-in-law
In a race against the wind, in a race against time, Keegan Tinney drove himself home through part of the storm that struck Joplin on May 22.
Keegan, a Missouri Southern football recruit, had been chatting with classmates from Joplin High School just after graduation ceremonies ended at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center at MSSU when he learned that a tornado warning had been issued.
“We had to wait in the second gym,” he said. “My parents and friends left four to five minutes before me.
“When I got home, my dad told me St. John’s (Regional Medical Center) had been hit,” Keegan said. “He said, ‘You need to get your work clothes.’ “
Nine days earlier, Keegan and future brother-in-law Jake Edge of Diamond had completed the six-month-long emergency medical technician training at Crowder College in Neosho.
When Keegan got a call from another friend at 13th Street and Range Line who needed help, he and Edge got into his father Rusty’s car, along with sisters Kaitlin and Shelby.
They never made it.
NIGHT OF TERROR
“We were on our way to go check on one of Keegan’s friends and make sure she was OK,” said Edge, a biochemistry major at Missouri Southern who is engaged to Shelby. “Kaitlin, Shelby and I are nurse’s techs. Katie works at St. John’s. Shelby works at Freeman. They both got ready.”
Rusty drove the Ford Edge that he uses as his work vehicle as an administrator for the Newton County Ambulance District.
“It has basically an airway bag for oxygen, lots of gauze and trauma equipment,” Edge said. “We went with him. We didn’t realize how bad it was until we got there.”
The debris along Range Line only allowed them to get as far north as 20th Street. “We pulled into the quick lube (Lube-N-Oil) that was there,” Keegan said. “At that point, it was four to five minutes after the tornado.
“We were the first ones there. People were still crawling out of the rubble,” he said. “Once we realized how bad it was, we called for backup.”
They set up a triage tent at the northeast corner of 20th and Range Line and began treating the injured.
“People were coming at us from all directions,” Edge said. “Rusty was a flight medic for several years. He found a lady who was pinned next to her car at the station (Lube-N-Oil). There were a lot of bricks over her. I didn’t even see her. I wasn’t looking there, but he heard her.”
The first ambulance arrived at about that time.
“The first one that came to help us came from Neosho,” Edge said. “Keegan went in that direction to see what ambulances were there. Rusty went with Shelby and me up to Wal-Mart.
“We got to the back of Wal-Mart and there was a lady pinned back there. We had to put her in the back of a truck and transport her through the rubble to Home Depot (where the triage tent had been moved).
“By the time we made it to Home Depot, there were four or five ambulances there. We had to prioritize the people based on how bad they were. Shelby described it best. It was almost like a war zone. There were just people scattered everywhere.”
Shelby and Kaitlin did the bandaging for the vast majority of patients, Edge said, while Rusty looked for a better location to handle the ambulance traffic.
“People were coming to us,” Kaitlin said. “The walking wounded is what we did.”
Meanwhile, Shelby said she was treating one casualty at a time, not thinking about the bodies around her that were not treatable. “That’s all you can do to get through it,” she said.
Rusty said he and others inspected what was left of the remaining structures near 20th and Range Line and decided they were not safe. He then went to Lowe’s, six blocks south and out of the debris field, in search of a safer location.
“I talked to the manager and said we needed the south end of the parking lot and he said, ‘Sure.’ The employees there helped load people into ambulances,” Rusty said. “I was able to dispatch ambulances out of there. We were transporting people five at a time. We probably at one time had 40 to 50 ambulances there.
“They filled buses there,” Kaitlin said. “They went to Memorial Hall.”
Meanwhile, the effort to remove people from the wreckage and get them out of the debris field continued, said Keegan, who, along with Rusty, had uncovered victims by lifting concrete blocks off their bodies.
“That’s another reason we chose Lowe’s. The routes to the hospitals were closed,” Rusty said. “We could tell them to go back to the interstate and take Main Street to 32nd Street and get to the hospital from there. If they weren’t from the area, it was easy for them to follow those directions as well.”
In addition to search and rescue teams from throughout the area, others at the scene helped as best they could.
“There was a storm spotter team that transported 50 to 60 patients out of there in their own vehicle,” Keegan said. “It was really a team effort.
“I didn’t get home until Monday night. What was wierd was I was helping people who I had just walked across the stage with.”
AFTER THE STORM
The National Weather Service continues to investigate why more people were not killed in the tornado, rated EF-5. The death toll stands at 153, with an estimated 1,150 who sought treatment for injuries.
“What we did was no more than what thousands of other people did,” Rusty said. “This was just where we were at.”
Rusty recalled the relief effort on May 10, 2008 when a tornado rated EF-4 roared across mainly rural areas of Newton County. He had helped set up a similar operation on the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Neosho.
At Missouri Southern, Keegan plans to study medicine and said he wants to be an emergency room physician.
“Some were pressed into service before they should have been,” said Tobin Schultz, an assistant football coach at Joplin High School where Keegan was a receiver and kicker. “I can’t imagine being an 18-year-old and 15 minutes after graduation being at a triage center at 20th and Range Line. It’s heroic.”
Kaitlin, a senior at MSSU, plans to start nursing school once she graduates in December. She is a 2006 graduate of McAuley Catholic where she played basketball.
Shelby, a junior at MSSU, is a 2009 graduate of McAuley who played soccer at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Okla.
Edge, 22, said he was supposed to start orientations at St. John’s Regional Medical Center two weeks after the tornado hit. Instead, the graduate of Diamond High School will start this week in the emergency room tent at St. John’s.
He and Keegan completed their final EMT tests Saturday in Springfield.
Keegan served as a counselor last week at Missouri Boys State, a leadership and citizenship training program in Warrensburg.
“I was there last year,” he said. “Only the top four percent each year are selected to come back and be counselors.”
Keegan’s aptitude for medical treatment started with his parents. His mother, Sandra, is a registered nurse.
“I’ve grown up around the Newton County guys and the METS guys,” he said. “They did a tremendous job as well. All of the EMS did a great job.”
He remembered what his instructor at Crowder College, Steve Cathers, had told him about working with mass casualties.
“You either know what you’re going to do or you’re going to vapor lock,” he said. “I was trained to do what I needed to do.”
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