Eagle fire chief remembers twister that destroyed his home
VIEW FROM THE TOP - Tornado damage in Eagle.Photo: Image by Todd Ponath/Photographer
EAGLE - Newspaper articles about the tornado that destroyed Eagle Fire Chief Justin Heim's home, with his family in it, hang on the walls of his new home today. "It's a reminder to us of precious and fragile life can be and in an instant everything can be gone," Heim said.
It was June 21st, 2010. A little after 9 o'clock. The National Weather Service issued a Tornado Warning for southwestern Waukesha County, which includes Eagle.
"I recall going to my sliding glass door and sticking my head out to see if I could hear the tornado siren go off and I didn't hear it go off."
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Chief Heim left his family and went to the fire station to try to sound the alarm. While he was working, a call came into the fire station. "One of my firefighters handed me the phone and he said you better take this. It was my mother-in-law on the phone from Indiana. She just said, Justin, Michelle called, the house collapsed and they're trapped in the basement."
That was how Chief Heim and his firefighters started to get the word that an EF2 tornado had ripped across the Town of Eagle destroying dozens of homes.
Chief Heim was immediately headed for his house.
"In emergency services we're so used to helping others, you never think that you're going to be a victim of disaster or catastrophe," Chief Heim said.
"Here it is, you pull up and everything that you worked hard for and everything that you own is laying out in the middle of somebody else's property. It's a scary feeling."
The chief rescued his family and working through the night and coming days to lead the team that rescued and helped others.
The physical damage is gone. But the emotional scars are still there nearly three years later.
The chief's oldest daughter still remembers the storm, "She still has a lot of problems with storms and that's to be expected."
When it comes to the adults, "those emotional scars even three years after the fact are still pretty fresh in a lot of people's minds. The way that I equate that to people is that it's like an old tube TV. When you turn the picture off the picture is still kind of there and as the power goes away that picture gradually fades. That's how these memories will be too."
Chief Heim says he never thought it would happen to him, but it did. And now is the time to plan, just in case it happens to you.
"Having those emergency contact lists, having the insurance company's contact information, flashlights, battery powered radios," are all important simple things that can make a big difference should you ever find yourself in a situation like the Heim's.