Jeff H. has been a dedicated employee of the Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) for 11 years. On March 2, 2012, when a devastating tornado struck the small town of West Liberty, Ky., he proved his dedication beyond a shadow of a doubt when he rescued the family of a fellow DOC employee.
Jeff, an electronics technician III at the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex (EKCC), lives with his wife and four children about 15 miles from the facility, located in the heart of West Liberty. After hearing about the tornado and realizing the potential devastation, Jeff felt the need to drive to EKCC to see what kind of help was needed.
“I heard it over my work radio that the tornado had hit the prison. All other lines of communication were down. I knew it was time to get to work,” Jeff said. “I could see that there was a major disaster in West Liberty, and I knew they needed help. I never gave it a second thought. I knew I had to go there.”
Jeff was unable to reach EKCC by vehicle because of the massive amounts of debris on the roadway and the overall path of destruction left by the tornado. Undeterred, he decided to leave his vehicle and walk the final two miles to the facility. Somehow, while walking in the torrential rain, he heard cries for help coming from a mound of debris where a house once stood. “As I was walking, I heard someone calling for help. It was total destruction. Their entire house was gone. All that was left was the flooring,” he said.
He discovered an injured couple who were both badly hurt and in need of medical attention. The wife was trying to keep the rain off of her husband’s face with a piece of board. In a twist of fate, Jeff soon learned that they were the aunt and uncle of a fellow EKCC employee and friend, David Bradley. “[Bradley] and I have been friends for 25 years,” Jeff said. “Until I started helping them, I didn’t know who they were.”
Once again, Jeff's work radio came in handy. He used it to call for medical personnel to the spot where the Bradleys’ home once stood. “I really could not tell you how long it took for help to arrive,” Jeff said. “I was just focused on helping them and getting them out of the situation.” When the fire department personnel arrived, Jeff helped carry Bradley’s uncle to a makeshift emergency room that was set up in West Liberty City Hall. He was later sent to the University of Kentucky Medical Center, where victims with more serious injuries were being taken.
“[Jeff] clearly went above and beyond the call of duty and should be commended for assisting this couple, bringing them both to safety and seeing that they received the proper medical attention. He is truly a hero,” said Todd Henson, public information officer for the Kentucky DOC. According to Jeff, Bradley’s aunt is doing well, but his uncle has since passed away from health issues unrelated to injuries sustained from the tornado. “I don’t really consider myself a hero,” Jeff said. “I just did what other people would have done in the same situation.”
In addition to being named “Best in the Business,” Jeff received the Kentucky DOC 2012 Hero Award. Since the rescue, Jeff has been trying to get back to business as usual, diagnosing electrical problems in the facility. What started out as trying to find a good job close to home has led to a rewarding career in corrections with the Kentucky DOC.
“The challenge is figuring out what is causing the problem and why things aren’t working. We deal with a lot of issues that are unique to the corrections field,” Jeff said. This includes the complex door locking systems, which are essential to the facility’s safe operations. Fortunately, the day of the tornado, Jeff later found out EKCC did not get hit hard — it only lost power for a while. A good thing, since his help was needed elsewhere.