"To the world you may be one person...but to one person you may be the world..."

About Me

I grew up in a village of 500 people and now live in a beach town of 10 000. Wife to Jeff, Mama to Makenna and Jack. This is my place to share what's up with us, and the place where I sometimes need to pour my heart out about the not so sunshiney moments. This is my happy place. Thanks for stopping by :) Copyright 2012 by Melissa Wormington, that no part of this blog may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without permission from the publisher.
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The Wormingtons

The Wormingtons
Jeff, Makenna, Jack and Melissa. Spring 2012. Photo credit: Tricia Denomme/Hope Photography

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tornado in Goderich: Jeff's story

To read earlier entires about the tornado, click here 

This story is from the viewpoint of my husband. 
Written by Melissa Wormington, as told to by Jeff Wormington. 

It was just another Sunday...

Lots to get done, and never enough time to fit it all in.

My son Jack, age 3 wanted nothing more than to play with me - all day long. Whenever I am home, he insists on playing with Daddy. I have gotten used to trying to keep him busy while still getting things done myself.

I spent the morning cleaning, sorting and trying to keep the kids happy while my wife Melissa was busy doing one of the things she enjoys most - baking. "We really need to do some serious purging" I had told her. Finally lunch came and went and it was naptime for Jack. I love naptime. It means I can finally do what I want to do and all I wanted to do that day was clean and polish my pride and joy, my truck. 2003 Chevy Silverado, extended cab, chrome was the exact truck I had wanted since I was a little boy and finally had. As soon as Jack was asleep and my daughter Makenna, age 6, was occupied, I snuck away for a couple hours to the firehall for "my time".

I returned just after 3 pm and was quite proud of how clean and shiny my truck was. I insisted Melissa come look at it. She smiled at it and asked "what should we have for supper?" as she walked back into the house. But I knew she liked it...sometimes it was a fight over who got to drive it.

I was thrilled when I found beef tenderloins in the freezer and made a plan to barbecue them for supper. This was going to be great - who can resist bacon wrapped beef tenderloins? I left them on the counter to thaw a bit and checked the weather radar on the computer. I remember noticing it was 3:35. The radar looked clear.


Jack was awake again and begging me to play - again. I was frustrated, but said that I would once I finished making the marinade for the beef. He had only one thing on his mind; he wanted me to play Wii with him. I told him we could play for about a half hour.

Just as I put his favourite game in and turned on the console, the power went out. Of course, Jack started to cry, like he always does when things don't go his way.

Makenna had been playing with playdoh in the living room and I heard her yell "Ummm Dad, you might want to come up and see this!" I figured she was scared and went upstairs to find her looking out the opened front door in amazement at the hail. It was huge! I yelled down to Melissa that she should come see it too. I heard the kitchen window break as it slammed shut. I tried to be calm as I told Makenna to go down to the basement to see what her mom and brother were doing. On my way by I closed the front door but it flew back open. I turned and it was all I could do to close it again, locking it this time. As I followed Makenna into the basement where Melissa and Jack still were, I heard that "freight train" sound everyone talks about. As my foot hit the first step down into the basement I heard a crash and turned to see the front door I had just closed and locked, fly past me towards our backroom - 20 feet from where it was supposed to be. As I flew down the stairs our cat jumped clear over my shoulder and dove into the basement with us. I grabbed Makenna and huddled there in the basement with my family, the pressure in my ears unbearable. Having no idea what was happening, I tried to remain strong and calm for my almost impossible task.

The next thing I remember is my pager going off and Melissa saying "You have got to be kidding me". I made sure my wife and kids were okay, fearing thats something very bad had just happened outside. As I ran out of the basement I told them I had to go and would be back soon, even though I was pretty sure I was going to be gone a long time.

There were leaves and branches in our front hallway.I could see daylight streaming into our house from all the wrong places. I have no idea why, but I picked up that front door and took it outside with me. When I stepped onto our front porch, and noticed the majority of it was gone, saw the trees in the street and the rain still pouring down...that's when I knew.


My pager was still toning - no one had made it to the hall yet, which wasn't a good sign. I turned towards my truck and froze. It was was destroyed. I knew it instantly. There was a tree on top of it.

With the tones continuing to go off and silence on the other end, I wondered if I was the only fireman in this town alive. Someone should have been there by now. Someone should have been announcing what we were dealing with by now. I ran over to the home of our neighbours, Jim and Joyce Spence and checked in with them. Once I knew they were okay I ran to the home of our other neighbours, Rick and Christa McCullough. I found Rick bleeding with a shard of glass from his patio door in his leg. Once he assured me he was okay I ran back into the middle of the street, looking for a way out to get to the firehall. Our neighbour from across the road, Steve Walters, told me to take his car. As quickly as I could I backed his car out of his driveway, between the fallen branches and debris and reached the 5 points in time to see our first truck responding to the area. I was close enough to see the look in the eyes of the firemen in the front seat as they saw what I had been dealing with. Up until this moment they just thought they were responding to an auto alarm at Victoria Street United Church - that's what the call came in as. While sitting in Steve's car right infront of them, where they didn't recognize me, I heard one of them say over the radio, in disbelief, "Oh my God, Wormy's house is destroyed". (Wormy is my nickname).

The time between seeing and hearing that, and my reaching the firehall in Steve's car is blurry to me. I was in tears as I ran into the hall and fell to my knees in shock. I grabbed the first firefighter I saw and bear hugged him.

Days later, I found out this man is not a hugger, and having no idea why I was reacting in such a way, was very uncomfortable. When I apologized, he shook his said and responded "That's what Brothers are for.

One of the firefighter wives was already at the hall. She ran over and asked me why I was there and not at home with Melissa and the kids. She said she was taking me back to my family and that I was no good at the hall in the state I was in. I told her that wasn't necessary, jumped back into Steve's car and returned to Park Street myself.

I checked in with Melissa, who had already taken our kids to Jim and Joyce's basement. She was trying to get ahold of her mother who lived an hour away. I didn't know what to do or where to be. Being a Captain on the Department I felt a duty to be with the firefighters and help the town but I also felt the need to see my children with my own eyes to know they were okay and to assure them I was okay. The last time they had seen me was in the basement as our house was being blown apart above us.

I ducked my head into Jim and Joyce's basement to assure Makenna and Jack that I was just fine, Mommy was fine, and everything outside was being taken of just fine.  Back outside, I looked at Melissa and told her I needed to go - that I didn't know what I was supposed to do but that I had to do something. Still trying to reach her mom, she nodded and I left.

I was told by the commanding officer to get a radio and clear the people off the street so that EMS vehicles could drive through. As I looked down the street I knew people were the least of our concerns. How were we supposed to move trees, steel beams and hydro poles? I spoke with the people wandering around on the streets, watching for signs of shock as I reminded them to stay away from the buildings that were threatening to fall down into the street at any moment. A woman approached me in tears, upset that she couldn't reach her 90 year old mother. I escorted her to the house where we found her safe with other firefighters and OPP officers. As I returned back toward Park Street I met 2 of my fellow firefighters and apologized to them for being unable to respond sooner. They looked at me incredulously, looked toward my house and told me to go and take care of it and my family. I replied that my house was destroyed and there was nothing I could do there.

One of the guys brought my full bunker gear from the hall to me and once I had it on I finally felt like I could do my job properly. I took my workboots off to find the heels of my bare feet blistered and covered in blood. Once properly dressed I was told to evacuate Park and St David Streets. Melissa's brother and some other Brussels firemen had arrived by this time and were ready to help, looking to me for direction. I gathered my crew and we began notifiying my neighbours and good friends that they had to abandon their homes. That was very difficult for me, and I encountered plenty of resistance, but I knew I had no choice - it needed to be done.

While searching homes, evacuating their occupants and climbing over and through trees to assess the state of various buildings on Park Street, I was repeatedly approached by members of the media.

Reporters wanted to know just exactky what it was that had happened here.
How much of the town was destroyed?
How many fatalities?
What is the role of the fire department right now?

I won't tell you how I responded. What I will say is that the editors of The London Free Press did a very good job when they quoted me in Monday morning's paper as saying "The main emphasis is on crowd control. The fire department is concerned because there has been a number of gas line breaks."

Later, when I was stationed at the corner of St David and Cambria Streets I was surprised to see Melissa's mother, of all people, running towards me. I had no idea what she was doing in Goderich or how she even got in. She hugged me, asked if I was okay and wanted to know where Melissa and the kids were. I still didn't really understand what she was doing in town and told her that although I was glad to see her I had work to do. I told her there was no way she was going anywhere near my house on the next street. She then explained that she had been talking to Melissa and was here to pick up our kids. I looked at her and told her I had no idea where they were.

Fate intervened. We turned at the noise of someone yelling to see my wife, Lynn Depatie and my two kids running towards us. I could not believe Melissa had retrieved the carseats out of the destroyed vehicles and had been carrying them with her this whole time. There was my little girl dragging her Barbie suitcase behind it was dirty and ripped in spots. As they discussed their plan to take the kids out of town, I told Melissa she needed to go with them and get out of town to a safer place. She flat out refused and told me she would see me in a little while.

I had to get back to work so I quickly hugged Makenna and Jack and told them I loved them and everything was fine. I looked at Melissa and confessed that I didn't know when I would see her again, I loved her and would try to talk to her soon. We said goodbye and I hurried off down St David Street.

I remember that Sunday evening, walking on patrol down Park Streetin the dark with Melissa's brother and 2 other firemen, 2 of us from Goderich, 2 from Brussels. The street had long since been evacuated and the four of us quietly walked in a row down the street, our eyes taking in what was left of my neighbourhood. I remember saying that I felt like I should be carrying a machine gun, not a flashlight, because it truly felt like we were in a war zone.

I stared at what was left of the house Melissa and I had built into a home. This morning it was just another Sunday. Now I didn't know where I was going to sleep that night, or if I would even sleep at all. I realized at that moment that what had taken place here in 12 seconds was going to take months to get back.

The hours turned into days and The Fire Department continued to be very busy. We were exhausted but kept pushing, doing what we were trained to do. While I was working for the town, Melissa worked at putting our life back together. Although it was my life too, as her husband and Makenna and Jack's father, I couldn't help her. My duties to the fire department had to come first. I couldn't be with my own family, because I was with my fire family. I spent the better part of the week with over 50 "brothers", only one of which I was actually related to, but all of them are like family. We looked after eachother, took care of eachother, and understood eachother. I struggled with a lot of guilt around being a Captain and not being there to help Melissa, but it was comforting to know that my Brothers and their wives on the Goderich Fire Department were trying to help by doing what they could, checking in with her, bringing food to her, helping her however they could, whenever they could.

Volunteer firefighters are just regular people. We have spouses, children, jobs and personal lives just like everyone else. But when that pager goes off, it is our job to leave our spouses, children, jobs and personal lives behind, no questions asked.

My house was destroyed. My vehicles were ruined. I had to leave my wife and children behind in order to help protect and support our town. Because that's what we do.

While I looked after your town and your families, my Fire family, and friends who became like family took care of my mine. Because that's what families do.

It was just another Sunday. All my 3 year old son wanted was for me to play with him. When I was finally ready to play, the next 12 seconds changed everything. When those 12 seconds ended, I didn't see my son or daughter again for 6 days. My job as a volunteer firefighter took me away from my children during the scariest moments of their young lives. I dropped everything for this town.
Now, when my son asks me to play, I drop everything for him. Don't assume that there is always tomorrow to make up for lost time. Tomorrow never came to my house.

At the end of that day, Family was all I had left.

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Anonymous said...

Powerful..Thanks Jeff and Melissa

hayley said...

His thought "With the tones continuing to go off and silence on the other end, I wondered if I was the only fireman in this town alive" just chills me to no end. It's so hard for many of us to realize what it was like to 'stumble upon' the damage as it happened, without hearing about it first and knowing the whole picture. Thank you again for helping us all to understand.

Anonymous said...

Puts everything in perspective. Life can change in a heartbeat, we have to take time while we can for the things we'd actually miss when it's all gone. A HUGE THANK YOU to all the VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS & OTHER EMERGENCY WORKERS for everything they do. They don't hear it often enough. So many times they are taken for granted. Yet they are committed to a service that most of us don't have the courage to fulfill. -C.P.