First responders recall terrifying moment tornado hit ambulance

Two Franklin County first responders were inside an ambulance when tornado hit


FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va. – When disaster strikes, first responders are the first to jump into action. During Friday's tornado in Franklin County, medics Bryan Ferguson and Billy Akers were driving back from another call when they got caught in the high winds.

Seconds after their close encounter, they rushed to save another driver when the tornado hit.

"We were returning from Martinsville. We were headed to our main office in Rocky Mount. We had heard of the weather alerts and were monitoring the situation," Ferguson said.

They were alerted to the immediate tornado threat over the radio in the ambulance when they heard the message: "Attention, all units. Attention, all units. Be advised we are currently in a tornado warning until 11 o'clock in this area. Again: tornado warning until 11 o'clock."

"As we were coming up the road, we were looking out towards the west, towards where the storm activity looked like it was coming from, thinking it was further away and just watching," Ferguson said. "Next thing you know, we're running right into it."

Debris pounded the ambulance, the right mirror bent and the glass on the back doors shattered. Thankfully, there were no patients in the ambulance at the time. Ferguson vividly remembered the shaking and turbulence in the ambulance.

"Noises were weirdest thing. The debris hitting the ambulance, just showering everything around us, including us," he said. "We both just kind of shelled up and threw our arms up for protection."

Billy Akers was also in the ambulance when the tornado hit. 

"A heavy rumble. Truck shook side to side and then the glass in the rear broke. Debris started coming in," Akers said.

Ferguson filmed on his cellphone while Akers drove. In the video, you can hear the two asking each other if they were alright.

"It just happened so quick that I was like, 'OK, we just went through a tornado or a tornado just went through us," Akers said.

"If I said there weren't a little bit of you know, scared tensions amongst us, I'd probably be lying," Feguson said.

That's when they called dispatch.

"Two-twenty northbound. Heavy damage. Our vehicle's out of the road. We did sustain damage to our vehicle. We are 10-4. The unit not so much. We're going to be out checking other vehicles," Ferguson said to dispatch over the radio.

Akers and Ferguson assessed the damage to the ambulance and surrounding cars and drivers.

"That's when we noticed the vehicle below us in the southbound lane," Akers said. "There was an occupant in that vehicle. We were able to remove that occupant [and] call back for additional units to let them know that we did have a rescue."

That man was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

"I just bowed my head and thanked the Almighty. I said, 'Thank you for keeping us safe.' And that's when we went to work," Akers said. "Didn't really take time to, you know, dwell about it. We had a job and just went to it."

"We both knew that somebody was watching over us," said Ferguson.

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