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Sheriff’s deputy rides out tornado in vehicle after saving lives of others

Photo credit: Willoughby Owen/Getty Images
Sheriff’s deputy rides out tornado in vehicle after saving lives of others
By Ezra Kane-Salafia ·
Tags: Our Stories
Sheriff’s deputy rides out tornado in vehicle after saving lives of others
Photo credit: Member Provided Photo.

An AFSCME member in Iowa saved the lives of others during a tornado before getting stuck and riding it out in his vehicle. And he survived to tell his story.

On May 21, Iowa was in the grip of a major tornado outbreak for a second day and got pummeled by 14 tornados. While Iowans huddled in basements and storm shelters, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Todd Dollen, a longtime member of AFSCME Council 61, was racing ahead of a tornado. He was headed for a county park in Villisca, Iowa, to warn campers in tents and recreational vehicles (RVs) that a tornado was bearing down upon them.

“We knew there were people at the campground from checking on them earlier in the day. When we saw the tornado, I went out to warn the campers. That’s just what we had to do,” Dollen said in an interview with AFSCME Now.

When he got there, he raised the alarm and got some campers to safety indoors. It was just in time. Robbie Keeler, a local resident, told KMTV his wife was in danger when Dollen arrived and got her to a shelter. Moments after she evacuated, the RV she was in was torn to pieces by the tornado.

Keeler told KMTV News that Dollen saved his wife’s life.  “I got a lot of love for that guy,” Keeler said. “I got a lot of respect for him.”

Even with the tornado just moments away, Dollen didn’t run to the shelter with the other campers he evacuated. Despite extreme danger to himself, he jumped back in his cruiser to try to reach another part of the campground before the tornado hit campers there.

However, as he sped towards his next destination, a tree uprooted by the tornado fell in front of his cruiser, blocking him. He rode out the tornado in his cruiser.

“That was my first time being in a tornado, and hopefully my last,” recounted Dollen.

The tornado raged around his vehicle, but left him unharmed. You can watch the body camera footage of the event here.

“Honestly, I was just trying to get to the park, make sure everybody was out and I was going to get the heck out of there, too,” Dollen said. “I just ran out of time.”

Despite feeling a little unprepared to handle a tornado, Dollen says it’s all in a day’s work as a law enforcement officer.

“I got into this work to help people. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. When you’re just starting out you hear about a lot of different parts of the job. You end up helping people in lots of ways they don’t teach you about,” he said.

Council 61 President Todd Copley praised Dollen for his commitment to ensuring people’s safety.

“Amid the chaos of the many tornados that hit Iowa that day, Sergeant Todd Dollen, displayed remarkable courage and an unwavering commitment to safety,” Copley said. “His actions ensured the well-being of countless individuals, exemplifying the true spirit of our union.”

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