First Responder: "We were only a few of many that night" - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

After the Storm: One Year Later

First Responder: "We were only a few of many that night"

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN. (WRCB) -- We are approaching the year anniversary of the largest tornado outbreak in history, one that swept through the Tennessee Valley, destroying homes and making our hometowns unrecognizable.

That night three corporals in Collegedale were faced with decisions no one should have to make, decisions that haunt them to this day, leaving memories that may never fully fade.

"It looked like a land fill," says Corporal Perry Collins.

A year later, the events of April 27th are still fresh on the minds of Corporals Dave Burgess, Perry Collins and Joe Greenleaf.

"Think of a bush hog 100 times the size getting lowered on a town," says Collins.

The trio rushed into Apison, as more storms moved in, hoping to find survivors.

"She said, ‘I've lost four, five members of my family'," Corporal Greenleaf recalls. "I said, ‘do you know where they are?' And she said, ‘No, I can't find them'."

Down the road a man was trapped under a building. Greenleaf, like many first responders that night, had to make a tough decision.

"I have to leave the unknown, because I don't know where they are and Corporal Collins has got a viable patient," he says.

Together they saved the man, but the four missing did not survive.

"Not completing a mission is the worst thing you can do to yourself," Greenleaf says. "And not being able to find those four or five people I was looking for, really, really frustrated me."

But just hours later, they made a discovery.

"Later on we did actually find a young boy," says Corporal Burgess.

Eight-year-old Andrew Ellis was found 500 feet away from his family's mobile home.

It was his great-grandmother, grandmother, cousin, and brother who died that day.

"For me, if I see the name of a victim, that messes with me," Greenleaf says. "And, I made the mistake of reading the names of the patients I could not find."

"If it helps Joe any, if you would have gotten to them right after it happened, you couldn't have helped," Burgess says.

A year later, it's still hard to think about. But these heroes, like so many others, saved lives because of their quick thinking.

"We were only a few of many that night," Collins says. "Everybody, citizens, responders, brothers, sisters, everybody was out there that night."

Many families have had a hard time rebuilding following the April 27th storms.

And, they may get hit again with higher insurance premiums.

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