Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

TOP STORY > >Firefighters help victims

By RAY BENTON
Leader managing editor

The South Bend Fire Department near Furlow spearheaded a relief effort for the demolished Highland Fire Department that was destroyed in last week’s tornadoes.

Six fire departments from central Arkansas donated more than $2,400 in cash and about $25,000 worth of equipment to fire departments in Highland and Ash Flat in north Arkansas. The group delivered the donations in two trucks on Saturday.The Highland Fire Department was obliterated by a direct hit from one of the tornadoes that swept through the state on Super Tuesday. Most of the relief went there, but some was redirected to nearby Ash Flat, which suffered some minor damage and loss of equipment.

The proce Clear Channel Communications contacted the riding club about organizing a drive to help out in Highland.
About half of the South Bend Volunteer Fire Department is made up of Red Knight members, and the whole process quickly became a fire department movement.

The South Bend department got other fire departments in the area involved, including Turtle Creek, East Pulaski, Kiehl, Rockport and Cabot.

After three days of taking donations from individuals, businesses and fire departments, the South Bend department, under escort by the Red Knights, took two tractor-trailer loads of equipment to Highland early Saturday morning.

The group was surprised by what it found in the north-central part of the state.

“It wasn’t what we expected at all,” South Bend Department battalion chief and president of the Red Knights Wesley Harris said.

“You couldn’t even tell it was a fire station. It was just gone.”

The group located the United State Flag in the rubble, straightened the flag pole, which had been bent at a 45-degree angle and raised the flag next to the old department’s foundation.

A house near the fire department had about a dozen two-by-four boards driven into and standing erect in its roof.

One vehicle had a telephone-pole-sized hole in its windshield left after the Highland Fire Department removed it from inside the car. The tornado had broken the pole off at the ground and threw it like a missile into the car.

Another heavily damaged vehicle sitting alone in a parking lot across from the department has yet to be identified, and locals don’t know to whom it belongs or from where it came.

Despite the condition of the town, Harris said spirits are high in the area.

“They’re not down and out. They’re looking at it as nowhere to go but up. Their fire chief just said hey, it can’t get any worse, so it can only get better.”