Olney PD honored for Jacksboro tornado response

Olney PD honored for Jacksboro tornado response

Four of Olney’s Finest received commendations for helping to protect citizens and keep order after a powerful tornado hit the city of Jacksboro on March 21.

Jacksboro Police Chief Scott Haynes presented certificates of appreciation to Olney Police Chief Dan Birbeck, Officers Dustin Hudson and Joe Logan and Animal Control Officer Hollie Larence at the Olney police station on July 20, as part of a tour of the 10 to 12 agencies that sent officers to the town after the storm hit at 3:50 p.m.

“We are 90 days away [from the storm] and since I didn’t see all these officers and meet them and shake their hands, and meet the chiefs and sheriffs, that’s what I’m doing now,” Chief Haynes said. “I am going around and putting names to faces and shaking their hands and letting them know how grateful we are – as a rural police chief, how grateful I am.”

The EF-3 tornado destroyed about 80 homes, lifted the animal shelter off its foundation, and directly hit Jacksboro High School and Jacksboro Elementary School, causing extensive damage while students, teachers and staff were sheltering inside. The National Weather Service said the tornado stayed on the ground for 45 minutes and at times was a halfmile wide.

Chief Haynes said he had three officers on duty that day. “By the end of the night there were 60 to 80 law enforcement officers that had come into town to help us unsolicited, so that is a good feeling to have all that help there when you really only have a few people,” he said.

Chief Birbeck, Officers Hudson, Logan and Larance departed for Jacksboro soon after hearing that the storm had caused significant damage. They were stopped at the outskirts of town on State Highway 281 and Wichita Avenue by debris from the nearby school and a disabled sheriff ’s vehicle - with a deputy and his K9 officer still inside.

“When we got to the city it was impassable,” Chief Birbeck said. “When we couldn’t pass through we just started helping people - making sure people were okay, that nobody was trapped, making sure things didn’t get stolen.”

After public works vehicles sent to the scene from other counties cleared a path, the Olney officers reported to a command center and received their assignments. Officers Logan and Larance patrolled the streets looking for injured people and looters and helping Jacksboro Animal Control officers round up dogs and cats. Officer Logan likened the eerie atmosphere to “the calm after the storm.”

Chief Birbeck and Officer Hudson, who are both EMT-trained, walked neighborhoods and plugged gas lines, and then were tasked with controlling the main roads into the devastated residential area to keep out non-residents and the curious onlookers.

“Before we got the neighborhoods locked down, we had people who had traveled from other towns just to come and look,” Chief Birbeck said. “Initially when we got there we had to park our vehicles because there were so many cars trying to access the area that it was gridlocked. We got out and got on foot. We walked several miles that day just making sure if there was anything we could do our help with.

The Olney officers said the citizens of Jacksboro made what could have been a grim assignment better than expected. “In a tragedy like that you see the best in people come out, Officer Hudson said. “Neighbors who may not have gotten along before are helping each other out. It’s actually a phenomenal thing to see after something like that hits.”

Chief Birbeck said there was little for the Olney officers to do in terms of keeping order or effecting rescues even in the worst-hit areas.

“Everybody was working really well together,” Chief Birbeck said. “I wouldn’t call it a lot of chaos. It was surreal because you were looking at utter devastation but people were working together. There were a few people who were emotional but for the most part everybody was supporting each other.”

The Olney officers returned home after midnight the next morning.

Chief Haynes thanked the team, shook their hands and read the certificates which thanked them for “your tireless pursuit of excellence and your commitment to the citizens of Jacksboro, Texas.”