Heroic trio recall rescue during Apison tornadoes - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

After The Storm: One Year Later

Heroic trio recall rescue during Apison tornadoes

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(WRCB) - Dave Burgess, Perry Collins and Joe Greenleaf are corporals with the Collegedale Police Department.  On April 27, 2011 they were in the middle of the tornado that left the Apison community in shambles.

Corporals Collins and Greenleaf teamed up shortly after the first storm came through.  It didn't take long before debris cluttered the roads and they couldn't go any farther by car.

"He and I started on foot, over, around, through, under, whatever we could," Corporal Perry Greenleaf says.

"We're dipping and ducking, climbing over things," Corporal Joe Greeleaf recalls.

The team continued down Apison Pike to Clonts Road.

"Now the total, devastation has started.  Everything is just leveled.  You can't describe it," Collins remembers.

"I just remember saying "man alive. This is like nothing I've ever seen before,'" Corporal Greenleaf recalls.

As the crew starts checking houses, they get a warning from their chief of another storm.

"Advise all of my units right now, I've got two supercells back to back coming our way," Chief Brian Hickman announces over the radio.

"They were encouraging us to start seeking a possible shelter area when needed," Collins says. "It's not if. It's when, because you're going to need it."

They spotted a drainage tunnel near the railroad tracks.  It's where they'll have to take cover soon.

Corporal Greenleaf continues down Clonts while Corporal Collins checks a pile of debris.

"I start hearing behind me, toward Apison Pike," Collins recalls.

"I need whatever personnel is available," Collins calls out over the radio. "I have entrapment. I'm trying to get some weight off him."

"This is a priority chief," he adds, moments later. "I need all the hands I can, plus hydraulics and chainsaws."

"I'm hearing them on the radio, "we could use some help over here,'" Corporal Dave Burgess recalls.

Burgess joins the pair and they all dig by hand because they don't have any tools.

"We were able to muscle the wall up enough to put a block under it," Collins says.

"He's in a space about yay big when we first found him." Greenleaf says, recalling the claustrophobic conditions.  "We had to open it up."

The rain is getting harder. The next storm is getting closer.

"The next large cell is five minutes out," the radio belts out.

"I remember looking at Joe one time and saying, ‘I ain't leaving,'" Collins recalls, getting choked up. "Brings back a few memories…"

 "We dragged him out," Greenleaf says. "For what he went through, he was in pretty good shape."

"So we get it up, get the guy out and we take off and run for the ditch," Burgess adds.

"We got out patient.  We're making our way to the ditch.  We got a cell right on top of us," Collins tells dispatch.

"I remember him asking, ‘Is this another tornado?'" Collins recalls. "I said, ‘I think so.'"

"We rode that out in the ditch for a few minutes.  It was pretty scary," Corporal Greeleaf says. "I'll put it there, as far as being scared on the job in emergency service, that's in my top three or four."

Once the storm passed, the man and his rescuers were checked out by paramedics and with the exceptions of scrapes and bumps, physically... Everyone was okay.

"Another citizen ended up taking him to his sister's house," Corporal Collins recalls. "Haven't seen him since."

But now the corporals had to deal with the emotional impact of this experience.

"That was... Quite a night," Greenleaf says. "I hope I never see it again, never.  It was awful."

While this trio has been honored for its bravery in the midst of the storm, they are reluctant to take the praise.

"Everybody out there that night was a hero," Corporal Collins says. "We're only a few of many that night."


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