Rockford storm throws truck through the air, volunteer firemen rescue driver

By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

Corey Johnson and Jim Moore were weather-spotting late Saturday afternoon, on a country road northwest of Rockford, and everything was pretty calm.

“Dead calm,” said Johnson. “We were measuring the wind right before we got up there, and we weren’t getting anything.”

But the weather turned quickly.

“All hell kind of broke loose,” said Johnson.

At about the same time as the two Rockford volunteer firefighters had gone out to spot storms, Parker Brumm, age 22, had decided to turn around. He was initially headed to Nora Springs Saturday, but when the weather started to get bad, he decided to instead head to his parent’s house.

As he tried to turn east at the intersection at 210th and Wren, the wind became so fierce that it began to pull his pickup toward the ditch, where it fell in and bounced. The wind then got underneath the truck and carried the pickup toward the sky— way up toward the sky, much higher than a Chevy S10 pickup is supposed to go.

“He got some pretty good air,” said Moore. “He was about as high as the telephone wires.”

The truck crashed down about 50 feet out into a field.

Johnson and Moore saw a flash of light among the mayhem of the sudden storm, but they weren’t exactly sure what it was. They’ve seen a lot of strange things, but their eyes aren’t programed to immediately identify a pickup truck, flying through the air, above their heads.

The Rockford Volunteer Fire Department had sent Johnson, 26, and Moore, 35, out to observe the approaching storm in order to sound sirens, if necessary. Sitting in the department’s Ford pickup, they had been out about 25 minutes.

“Most of the time when we go out storm-watching, it’s a lot of nothing,” said Johnson, who works as a pipefitter in Nora Springs, and is also a member of the Rockford City Council.

They received information from the radio and their phones telling them that something weather-related was going on further up the hill, so they pulled out and started to turn around. As they were on the way to a driveway to turn around, the wind picked up, “from zero to 60 in about a second,” Moore said.

“I can’t confirm that there was a tornado, because we couldn’t see one, but I’ve never seen winds like that. And I’ve never seen them come that quick,” said Johnson.

The National Weather Service said Sunday that it had not determined if the damage in Rockford had been caused by a tornado. At approximately 4:40 p.m. on Saturday,  it was reported that rotation had been spotted over Rockford, headed east. There were no reports of a tornado touching down.

It seemed like a tornado to Johnson and Moore, however. Their truck was rocking, they noticed an empty grain bin was blowing into the field, and a nearby LP tank had become unhooked and had blown off.

“Our adreniline was pumping,” Johnson said. He said he felt his ears pop from the sudden change in air pressure. “I said, ‘that’s not good.’”

When they saw the flash of light, they initially dismissed it.

“At first we thought a transformer blew off the telephone pole,” said Moore, who works at a machine shop when he’s not spotting storms or fighting fires.

“We don’t see that often, but it’s the kind of thing we know that happens, and we’re used to that,” Johnson added.

They soon realized that the flash they had seen wasn’t a transformer at all, but the headlight of Brumm’s pickup truck — in the sky.

“He was so high off the ground, that’s why we initially wrote it off as the wires flashing, or a transformer,” said Johnson. “You don’t expect to see a truck that far off the ground.”

The Chevy S10 crashed out in the muddy field about 50 feet away from where Moore and Johnson were. Moore jumped out of his truck and began running toward the truck in the field.

“Right when I saw that truck sitting in the field like that is when the hail started hitting the roof, and I said, ‘we’ve got to go and see if anyone’s in there,’” Moore said. “He just parked in the field driveway, and I got out and started running into the field. I got about halfway there, and I saw Parker climbing out of the truck — he was stumbling toward us, because he wasn’t quite all with it yet.”

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been quite that scared,” Johnson said. “I was concerned for Jim and me, I knew we were in danger. I didn’t know if he’d find him.”

Halfway to the truck, Moore recognized Brumm as someone he knew.

“I said, ‘Hey Parker, we gotta go, get in the truck now, we’re leaving,’” said Moore. “I asked if there was anyone else with him, and he said there wasn’t. He was able to walk.”

“He was dazed, so we were screaming at him, ‘get in the truck, get in the truck!’” said Johnson.

Johnson said as soon as they had gotten Brumm into the truck, that’s when the heavy hail started coming down really hard. The wind was also still blowing debris all around them.

“I knew we had to get out of there,” Johnson said.

In the truck, they tended to Brumm’s injuries. Johnson said Brumm was covered with blood.

“He had a laceration on his head, and he had a decent gash in his side,” Moore said.

“That almost looked like a stab wound,” Johnson added.

“He had white shorts on, but with all the blood and the rain washing down him, they looked like red shorts,” said Moore.

Johnson drove to a cousin’s house, about three or four miles away from where they were.

“My cousin Holly is a certified nurse. We were thinking, we’ve got the town to look after, as well as we have to try to get him safe. I thought she could care for him, and make sure he wouldn’t die,” Johnson said.

Once they had gotten Brumm safe, Johnson and Moore, who have both lived in Rockford for most of their lives, had every intention of going back out to continue with their storm-spotting duties, but the intensity of the storm at hand didn’t allow it.

“I said, ‘we can’t go back out, we’ve got to get in the basement,’” Moore said.

To the basement they went, and once the storm had passed, they took Brumm to his parents’ house.

Although the Chevy S10 was a total loss, Brumm’s injuries were minor. However, had Johnson and Moore not been there, it could have been a different story.

Dazed and bleeding profusely, in the middle of a field, in the middle of the storm, over a mile away from anyone’s house — Brumm might not have gotten the help he needed,

“I don’t think we saw another car go by the entire time,” said Moore. “I don’t know that anyone would have seen him. We almost didn’t see him.”

“Right place, right time,” Johnson said. “Nothing heroic about it, we were just at the right place at the right time.”

“I don’t feel like it was heroic whatsoever,” said Moore. “We were just doing what we signed up to do. I was just glad we were there to be able to help him out.”

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