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Lexington firefighters reflect on Martin County rescue attempt

Friday afternoon, officials in Martin County announced that both construction workers who were inside this coal tippling plant when it collapsed were dead.
Friday afternoon, officials in Martin County announced that both construction workers who were inside this coal tippling plant when it collapsed were dead.

Lieutenant Shannon Poynter and seven structural collapse specialists left Lexington at 2:30 Wednesday morning – about eight hours after the 11-story building collapsed. They brought Rescue 12, a heavy apparatus truck, and a 30-foot box trailer gooseneck. 21-year veteran Poynter is a hazmat specialist.

“I deployed monitors, four gas monitors, that detect different types of gases that that could be harmful in confined space areas, or, you know, any type of emergency, also had a rad monitor there, just in case, you know, we had anything.”

Rad is short for radiation – one of many possible dangers first responders faced. Perhaps the chief threat was the tons of steel and concrete that sometimes shifted. Shortly after Poynter’s crew arrived, they learned one construction worker, Billy “Bo” Daniels, was dead.

Battalion Chief Jeff Johnson, also a 21-year firefighter, arrived in Martin County about 2 p.m. Wednesday. His role was that of a planning deputy for the Kentucky All-Hazards Incident Management Team, helping plan the next operational period based on constant updates.

“You're trying to answer the questions, what people do I need and then all that it takes to house them, feed them, give them equipment, right, what, what tasks are going to be needed the next operational period, so you're kind of working two things at once you're, you're mitigating whatever happens at the moment, while planning for the next operational period.”

Poynter, Johnson and most everyone else on scene worked long hours with very little sleep. They say their years of training include learning how to manage their emotions – when lives are at stake, and when conditions are so dangerous, they can’t do all they’d like to save someone. Jeff Johnson:

“The job only goes as well as you stay focused.”

Focused, yet frustrated. Late Friday afternoon, after the Lexington firefighters had left, officials announced that 57-year-old Alvin Nees was dead, too. Shannon Poynter:

“Sometimes you have to realize that you've done everything that you can do, and that we have exhausted every option. And then sometimes you just have to leave the rest up to fate.”

And, says Johnson, a former minister, faith.

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John McGary is a Lexington native and Navy veteran with three decades of radio, television and newspaper experience.
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