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Washington Fire Chief Tells Harrowing Tale of Trying to Outrun Tornado

He even has video of the destructive storm as he attempted to get out of its path.
WASHINGTON – Storm chasing used to be on Washington Fire Chief Mike Vaughn’s bucket list. Now, that’s no longer the case. On the day of the tornado, Vaughn said he was just doing his job, but at the same time, he was running for his life.

Severe weather has never really been a concern for Vaughn. He said, “"I usually don't pay any attention to that stuff because you know, it's never going to happen here."

But on Sunday, Nov. 17, the Washington Fire Chief said the tornado warning felt very real. “"For some reason, I sent out a mass text to my guys at 8:42. I have it on my phone."

Two hours later.

He said, “Our dispatch got on and simply said, from what I can remember, we have a report of a funnel cloud on Mueller Road."

After that, he said it’s all a blur. He watched the E-F-4 drop from the sky and aim straight for Crossroads Church and Washington Middle School.

Both locations were full of people. He said, “How it didn't hit the school I don't know, so I'm worrying about that, but there's a big First United Methodist Church, Crossroads, is right down the road and I thought man there's a bunch of people in there."

This video, courtesy of Clink Plunk, shows Vaughn speeding toward Crossroads, trying to alert people of the danger. Vaughn didn’t quite make it. He said, “I got 3/4 of the way down that road and thought this is going to be bad."

If he wanted to live, he knew he had to turn around. In a 911 call, Vaughn said, “I’m just trying to outrun this thing right now. It’s chasing me. I’m on business 24, I can’t outrun it.”

Vaughn said, “It was sickening. I've never ever, ever, that I know of, been that scared. Scared enough that I called my wife and told her goodbye when I was driving down the road because I thought I was done. At some point, my truck started kind of swaying back and forth at the same time and in my mind, I’m thinking OK, I'm going to go flying. Do I hang on? Do I let go?"

He said that experience and what soon followed will stick with him forever.

“I don’t have an explanation for it. There’s none, I mean, I don’t know. It’s a power higher than us, I think.”

Vaughn said he’s never been so proud of his department and the many other central Illinois firefighters who responded that day.

Eight of Washington’s volunteer firefighters lost everything, and still, worked around the clock.
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