Racine first responders say tragedies involving children are the hardest

RACINE (WITI) -- Hundreds were injured when a tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma on Monday, May 20th, and so far, 24 people have been confirmed dead, with nine of them children. The number of those killed and injured could have been higher if it weren't for first responders, that number could be much greater.

While firefighters in Racine have never dealt with the kind of destruction seen in Oklahoma, they have been through some emotional rescues -- including life and death situations involving children.

The Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma was destroyed by Monday's tornado, and immediately after the tornado lifted and there was no longer a threat, rescuers tore through the rubble in an attempt to rescue children buried underneath.

As a lieutenant with the Racine Fire Department, David Peterson says he can relate to what his peers in Oklahoma are dealing with, as residents begin to pick up the pieces.

Peterson says most first responders learn to deal with the internal struggle of a tragedy, with one exception:

"Emotionally you build up this kind of wall after a while where you get kind of used to seeing some of these things. The things that bother us guys the most I think are children though," Peterson said.

At Plaza Towers Elementary School, kindergartners through third-graders took shelter, as the school was in the tornado's direct path.

Peterson remembers a fire last November in Racine on Linden Avenue. Four children were trapped in the home when it caught fire.

"It was an incident where the firefighters literally would not give up. They kept going back in. They kept going back in looking for these kids and they were so exhausted that when the fourth child finally came out of the house several of them collapsed in the front lawn," Racine Fire Chief Steve Hansen said.

"Just from personal experience, you're thinking about your kids," Peterson said.

"A lot of those that have been through that type of tragedy before, they'll start watching their coworkers. Are they being quiet? Are they looking away? Are they looking down? Are they exhibiting any signs that they're under a lot of stress because of what has happened?" Hansen said.

Many of the first responders in Oklahoma had their own families and homes to worry about -- but rather than be with them, they upheld their duty to serve the community.