Harvest was in full swing when the first explosion hit.
Brodie Richardson, a grain-elevator employee in a small town, was busy at work, helping a farmer unload a truck when he heard the blast.
“I was caught in the driveway when I heard a whooshing sound,” he said. “I tried covering up the best I could, and I got hit with this fireball.”
Not realizing the extent of his injury, Richardson tore off the remnants of his shirt and ran down the elevator’s access ramp.
Then the second explosion hit.
The elevator was quickly becoming a raging inferno, and as Richardson scrambled for his truck to move it out of harm’s way, a farmer caught his attention.
“He asked if he could help me out, and by that point I was starting to feel the pain and knew I needed some medical help, so I asked him to give me a ride to the hospital.”
It was a few blocks away, and medical staff there determined he had second-degree burns to 30 per cent of his body and needed to quickly reach a trauma centre in the city. What’s more, they were concerned what he might have inhaled when hit by the fire.
“At that point they notified STARS because they were very worried that my airway would close up,” he said. “They didn’t want me to be in the ambulance, which is about a two-hour drive, and have my airway start restricting.”
STARS Captain Pilot Robert Kamphuis remembers seeing the blaze from a long way off.
“Maybe 40 kms or so back, maybe 10 minutes flying time, I started to see a little bit of smoke on the horizon,” he recalled. “And it wasn’t until we were almost right over it that we could see the extent of what had happened. It was very, very dramatic.”
The elevator was fully engulfed in flames, and a floating ember had spread the conflagration to a hardware store down the street.
Richardson still remembers the aerial view from the back of the STARS helicopter as they were flying out of town.
“That was kind, ‘wow,’ ” said Richardson, searching for words. “That’s my job. It was something that you don’t want to see burned down. It was quite a sight to see.”
He said numerous fire departments from neighbouring communities did “a fantastic job” of containing and, eventually, snuffing the blaze.
Richardson spent the next 18 days recovering in a burn ward that had a view of the hospital’s helipad.
“I remember seeing the helicopter come in, and it was an alarming rate how many times they flew in,” he said, citing why he chose to learn more about STARS, lend his support, and arrange to meet his flight crew.
“I wanted to come and say thank you,” he said. “I got some closure saying, ‘Thank you, I’m doing better, I’m healthy now, and in large part thanks to you guys.’ ”
Kamphuis was grateful to see the patient on the mend.
“We’re just thankful that he got the right care at the right time and we were able to be part of that.”