Jon Hansen had helped with tornado recovery efforts before. As the fire department spokesman, he’d stood knee-deep in rubble after the Oklahoma City bombing. He bore witness to the aftermath of the tragedy and helped relay what he’d seen to millions of people around the world. He knew devastation. But he’d never seen anything like May 3, 1999. That day, Fire Chief Gary Marrs was out of town. That left Hansen and another assistant fire chief, Kenneth Bunch, in charge on one of the worst days in metro history. Earlier on, it seemed that Norman would face the bulk of the storm damage. Hansen went to Station 9, the southernmost fire station in Oklahoma City, and started organizing a task force to assist Norman firefighters. “We were in the station, watching the meteorologists on TV, and they said it was starting to turn,” Hansen said. “It was going to track across ... Oklahoma City into Del City and Midwest City.” The tornado swept just south of Station 9. Immediately, reports came in of damage to Westmoore High School. Hansen and other firefighters headed that direction, but quickly realized the scope of the destruction. They set up a command post at SW 119 and Western Avenue and began coordinating with police and other responding agencies. “You would think a metro area the size of Oklahoma City would have almost unlimited resources,” Hansen said. “But when you have a natural disaster that starts on the edge of one part of your community, then hits the larger city and then the suburbs on either side, you run out of resources.” Hansen was so busy he didn’t realize he was a victim until about 45 minutes had passed. “One of our fire captains came up and pointed and said, ‘You live right up over that hill,’” Hansen said. “What had been a grove of trees was completely gone, and I could see into the neighborhood.” His townhouse in the Greenbriar Eastlake Patio Home community was ravaged and would later be condemned. “I said, ‘Oh well,’
” he recalled. “At that point, the fact that I was affected was a secondary thing.”
Emergency operations continued for days. Rescuers — paid and volunteer — didn’t get much sleep.
“Those people just went above and beyond the call of duty,” said Hansen, who now runs a company that provides training to public safety groups. “That’s expected of us. But to see the citizens do the same thing ... and honestly, genuinely want to help, I’ll never forget that.”