Law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, and tow truck drivers all descended up February’s massive pileup on I-41 to rescue people, and on Monday, they were recognized for their heroism by the Gold Cross Ambulance Service.
“When I arrived on scene, I was told it was a much smaller crash than it was, and when I got there realized it was a much larger incident,” Deputy Erica Geschrei with the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office said. “It was very chaotic, there were a lot of people running around, screaming, bleeding, people were trapped, so very chaotic.”
The Gold Cross Ambulance Service played a video montage of body camera footage from that day, showing first responders climbing over medians and vehicles as the wind was howling to rescue drivers and passengers trapped in their cars.
“The elements were very tough,” Captain Mike Allcox with the Fox Crossing Fire Department said. “With the winds and the cold temperatures, any time you breathed, the moisture from your breath was freezing onto your face.”
Strong winds and whiteout conditions led to a chain reaction of more than 130 vehicles crashing into each other on I-41. One person died, and five people were treated for their injuries at hospitals.
“That day, in one moment I could see the officer standing next to me, the next second I couldn’t, because the winds were blowing that strong,” Deputy Geschrei recalled. “It was very cold, it didn’t matter how many layers you had on. The wind was still cutting through you.”
The first responders worked together to free people from crumpled up cars and get them to a warm shelter, and the injured to hospitals, while tow trucks got to work on hauling away more than 100 cars from the scene.
While it was a physically challenging day, it was also emotionally exhausting.
“Very taxing emotionally, you know once everything is done, a lot of times as law enforcment that’s kind of when we sit down and we kind of process what we went through and what we dealt with,” Deputy Geschrei added.
In the short reunion for these heroes, they could feel the impact they made that day.
“We worked together as a great team that day,” Deputy Gerschrei explained. “I’m very proud to say that I work in this community with such wonderful firefighters and paramedics and police officers. And I know after that incident we can handle anything.”
The Gold Cross Ambulance Service gave medals to the first responders.