Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995, 9:01 AM.
Yes, it was 20 years ago.
When people find out I’m with the Oklahoma City Fire Department, they usually ask if I worked the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. When I remind them that it was 20 years ago, many seem surprised that so much time has passed.
Although Oklahoma is no stranger to large-scale disasters—tornados, the dust bowl, floods and wildfires—the fact that Oklahoma City would be the target of terrorist attack was something most people, especially those of us in Oklahoma City, found highly unlikely.
That day, 168 lives were taken, including 19 children. Hundreds were injured and many still live with the permanent physical and emotional scares. The Murrah Building itself was completely destroyed, with all nine floors on the north side collapsing. Many other structures in downtown Oklahoma City suffered major damage, resulting in some having to be completely demolished.
In terms of loss of life, injury and property damage, it was the largest incident of domestic terrorism in the United States at that point in history.
As devastating as this event was to our community, it was an important and positive event to America’s fire and emergency service. The Incident Command System (ICS) was still developing, with many departments either only beginning to implement ICS or still skeptical of its benefit in managing emergency incidents. The response to the Murrah Building bombing was the first major, non-wildland fire disaster that demonstrated the effectiveness of ICS.
Before there was a National Incident Management System (NIMS) the response to the bombing was in every sense a NIMS event, involving several state, military and federal agencies.
Before I move on, I want to make special mention of the tremendous assistance we received from the 11 FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Teams that deployed to Oklahoma City. Their knowledge and expertise in structural collapse and technical rescue was an invaluable asset in the rescue and recovery effort.
The New York Task Force is worthy of special mention; they deployed 56 members, 10 of whom later lost their lives to another act of terrorism at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Included in that number was FDNY Deputy Chief Ray Downey and Captain Terrence Hatton, two firefighters who made a lasting impression on me and many members of our department
In the category of “Where Are They Now,” Fire Chief Gary Marrs, who was the overall incident commander during the response, continued his service to our city as council member for many years after his retirement.
Assistant Chief Jon Hansen, department PIO and during those two weeks the face of the fire service, has remained involved and is currently the director of the Council on Firefighter Training for the State of Oklahoma.
Captain Chris Fields, who was pictured in the iconic photograph holding the severely injured Baylee Almon, remains a member of our department, currently serving as a station officer.
Finally, I believe if you asked any Oklahoma City firefighter who responded to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, they would tell you they didn’t do anything extraordinary or heroic. They would tell you they did what was expected of them as firefighters, just as any firefighter career or volunteer in this country continually do when called upon.
As we represented the nation’s fire service at that time, it’s our hope that our performance was something we can all be proud of.
Please join me this April 19 in fulfilling the Mission of the Oklahoma City National Memorial: “Remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.”
G. Keith Bryant
IAFC President and Chairman of the Board