About three minutes later, I had responded to dispatch, dressed, and headed out. The rain had stopped, but it was by no means calm outside. In fact, it was downright evil-looking. The power was out along the road to the highway, so the yard lights and dimly glowing windows I was accustomed to seeing at night were missing. The road surface was smeared with standing water. Leaves, twigs, and small tree branches littered the pavement. The wind pounded my car and pushed the front end around. It occurred to me that this drive to the station might offer more hazards than usual and I wondered about my wisdom in venturing out that night. I was fearful of being hit by a falling tree or downed branch or hydroplaning the car on ponded water.

I had run on several emergency calls by then, but they were medical calls where you pretty much know what to expect. This call was another matter. In addition to the potential hazards of simply driving to the station, it could present elements of medical emergencies, trauma, injury to responders, structural damage, search for victims, power lines on the road, fire, flooding. This was way over my level of experience.

The highway to tiny Heathsville was covered with tree litter and standing water. The streetlights were dark when I drove through town. The rescue radio rattled with tones and staticky chatter as dispatch called out for reinforcements. A fire department was responding with various apparatus. Somebody asked dispatch to contact the power company. A police vehicle pulled out onto the highway from the courthouse complex down the road ahead of me, lights and sirens ripping through the night.

The hardwood and pine forests that cover the Northern Neck encroach on the lane from the highway to the Mid-County station. No trees had fallen, so the route was clear, but they swayed ominously in the wind.

HerbAt the station, the bay doors were open and the dim power-failure lights were on. Herb, a retired firefighter from northern Virginia, was loading a chainsaw into the back of an ambulance. He told me what the deal was: A tornado had apparently damaged houses and knocked out power in Edwardsville. Injuries had been reported. Nobody knew if the roads were passable to the scene and nobody was sure how many people or structures were affected. Northumberland Rescue's Burgess station was closest to Edwardsville, but a tree had fallen across the door to the ambulance bay there, so they couldn't get out. The power was out at Northumberland's Reedville station, so they couldn't open the electricity-powered bay doors.