Know by heart

Imagine some place you knew by heart twisted into a craggy wrecked landscape over night. “After the tornado hit, you could stand in an intersection and not know what street you’re on, just because every home was gone, every landmark that you used to know, it’s gone. It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” Det. William Davis with the Joplin, Mo., Police Department says, describing the lost feeling that the community and its police force have felt since a storm took out much of the small city about 150 miles south of Kansas City, Mo.

Now he says there are tons of debris including rubble from buildings, soil, trees, shrubs and personal property covering the landscape of what used to be a Midwest community of about 50,000. The homes that used to make up these residential neighborhoods are broken apart and spilled all across the city. It looks like someone took a house made of 2x4s, shingles and insulation, filled with furniture and things, “put it into a can, shook it up and just tossed it all over the ground,” Davis says. “The homes — there’s no structure to them left, they’re completely gone.”

After the EF-5 tornado, with winds traveling at speeds greater than 200 mph, leveled the town of Joplin, Mo., on May 22, relief efforts to help the small Midwest community kicked off in full swing. But when disaster strikes, public safety workers don’t just get to go home, Capt. Travis Yates says; they have to keep working, often taking longer shifts or coming in to provide officer relief and mutual aid. And in the tally of the destruction, 36 area officers lost all or part of their homes, some without even a spare uniform to report to work in.

That’s when two do-gooders — living about 7 hours apart from each other, got to work utilizing their volunteer organizations and law enforcement brothers and sisters to spread the word about the Joplin-area officers losses and collect the resources necessary to help out.

Yates, an officer with the Tulsa, Ok., PD for about 18 years, has multiple volunteer side projects including Ten Four Ministries, a religious-based police charity group. With the Overland PD in St. Louis, Mo., for 14 years (and a cop for 19), Cpl. Scott Barthelmass also works for the St. Louis Children’s Hospital as a paramedic and has been assisting Missouri-area departments and families after the death of an officer through his organization, the Missouri Law Enforcement Funeral Assistance Team. The two men say they started receiving calls asking how to help, so they reached out to Davis at the Joplin PD (and who also works as the secretary/treasurer for the local FOP, Lodge 27, which additionally provided much aid to the region’s police).

Within five days of sending out initial e-mails and collecting donations, Yates and Barthelmass were able to help provide the displaced officers with the needed on-officer apparel such as shirts, pants and boots, as well as financial assistance from donors in all corners of the United States. Folks from Beaverton, Ore., Troy, Ill., to the Delaware Capitol Police were calling Barthelmass and Yates asking what was needed. It was an amazing, and most impressively, swift outpouring of support from the brotherhood for the 36 (and counting) police personnel who lost their homes in Joplin.

So many law enforcement hands reached out to pick the Joplin men and women up, I don’t have room to list them all here. Some of the donors did not even wish to be identified. But that’s the nature of this community: to work tirelessly and thanklessly for the good of others. And when it was their own in need, the big blue hearts reached out from all sides of the nation, ready and willing to help, with donors leaving encouraging and compassionate messages on the Ten Four Ministries’ contribution page. Simply, says Davis, “the brotherhood of law enforcement came forward to help.”

When you’ve become lost somewhere that you used to know by heart, a great show of heart can help you feel watched over.