Dawson Springs police look back at tornado one year later

Dawson Springs police look back at tornado one year later
Published: Dec. 9, 2022 at 5:18 PM CST
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DAWSON SPRINGS, Ky. (WFIE) - Every day, there are new stories from those who survived last year’s storms in western Kentucky, including from first responders who worked the night the storm touched down.

Dawson Springs Police Chief Mike Opalek has been serving this community since 2007. He says on the day leading up to the storm, he didn’t think it was going to be that bad, but he didn’t hesitate to jump into action when he realized just how devastating it could be.

Before the damage was done to Dawson Springs, before anyone knew how bad it would be, Chief Opalek wanted to see it coming.

”I’ve always tried to protect this town, so my first instinct was to go to the western edge of the city limits to try to visually see, and I guess mentally try to stop it,” said Opalek.

Chief Opalek was off duty when the storms hit, but he says he and other officers started helping people right away. He also made the police station into a triage center. He says the first ambulance didn’t get to town until about two hours later, so most of the wounded who could be moved went there.

He says the emotional effects of the storm can still be felt.

”We did deal with a lot of citizens, and still deal with some citizens, that have PTSD from it and different things,” said Opalek. “One of things I like to do is sit down and talk with them. If they want to talk with somebody, I’ll come talk with you all day if I have to.”

One change they have made since the storms is to decrease their storm siren tests. They realized daily tests were triggering the PTSD of residents. Now they have switched to weekly tests, and they will only use them for tornadoes, no longer for thunderstorm warnings.

Chief Opalek says he thinks the experience has brought the police closer to the community, and he hopes people know they’re there to help them.

”We’re a different breed of police officers here,” said Opalek. “We’re not here to serve warrants all the time and write people tickets. We’re here to help people, and the community knows that. They know that about us, that we’re here to help.”

Chief Opalek says it means a lot to him knowing this community will band together in times of trial. He says it makes his job a lot easier.