Sen. Mike Cunningham’s Legislative Column for Dec. 7, 2018

Cunningham Updated Banner March 2017Legislative Column for Dec. 7, 2018

West Plains residents will not soon forget April 28, 2017. On that day, the rain started hard and kept coming. At least 9 inches of rain fell on West Plains in six hours. Howell Creek could not contain the deluge, and soon homes and businesses were inundated with flash flood waters.

The National Weather Service described the event as a 500-1,000-year flood. Roads and bridges were destroyed, and homes were swept from their foundations. Anyone who was there remembers how the community came together to help their neighbors. On Nov. 13, the governor officially recognized a few of the heroes of the flood of 2017.

Ten West Plains firefighters, two State Highway Patrol troopers and one private citizen were awarded Missouri Public Safety Medals as part of a ceremony in Jefferson City. The first responders each were recognized with a Governor’s Medal, which is awarded to groups of public safety officers in recognition of acts above and beyond the call of duty. A Public Safety Civilian Partnership Award, which recognizes valuable or courageous assistance on the part of a private citizen, was also awarded.

The Governor’s Medals recall two separate heroic rescues.

West Plains firefighters Shawn Bice, Chris Brockelbank, Jeremiah Jones and M. Corbin Thompson along with Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop G officers Christopher Kimes and Tyler Pond were recognized for their rescue of trapped residents of Country Meadows Trailer Park, east of West Plains. The governor’s proclamation describes the scene:

“West Plains Firefighters Bice, Brockelbank, Jones and Thompson, and Highway Patrol troopers Kimes and Pond, determined to approach the trailer park from railroad track on utility terrain vehicles. They then cut through thick brush and then waded across a field in chest-high water. Reaching the park, the four firefighters and two troopers’ rescues included three people who had been struggling to hold on in a trailer swept off its foundation and a woman who was experiencing chest pains and had to be carried to safety through the flooded field.  . . .  A total of seven residents were rescued by the team, working as one unit, overcoming floodwaters, floating debris, heavy rain, lightning and many other obstacles.”

Meanwhile, West Plains firefighters Chris Bell, Gary Brower, Matt Cockrum, Richie Hammon, Grant Sholes and Kurt Wilbanks, along with West Plains City Councilman Cary Stewart were focused on their own heroic rescue effort. Again, the governor’s proclamation describes the struggle:

“The team of Captain Wilbanks, Engineers Bell, Hammon and Sholes and Firefighters Brower and Cockrum, along with West Plains City Councilman Cary Stewart, proceeded in a firetruck, using a pike pole to find the roadway. They would continue to improvise in terribly adverse conditions – outfitting a borrowed johnboat and single paddle with forcible entry tools and rope rigging. They made rescues using the firetruck, boat and on foot through waist deep floodwater. In all, 92 people were rescued, with four patients delivered to the hospital by boat. Those rescued included the elderly, injured, a homebound elderly woman on oxygen and about three dozen college students who sought refuge on the roof of a dormitory.”

I appreciate the governor’s decision to recognize these brave men for the selfless acts they performed on that horrific day. With little regard for their own safety, they put their lives on the line to come to the aid of their neighbors. We all owe a debt of gratitude to these men and anyone else who stepped forward to help in that time of need.

Thank you, gentlemen, for a job well done.

As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.