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Fire chief: 'There were people in cars you couldn't even see'

Ind. Fire Chief Mick Pawlik said he was shocked as he looked down the endless stretch of mangled semis and crumpled cars on I 94

Chicago Tribune

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. — Volunteer Fire Chief Mick Pawlik said his "old eyes have seen a lot," but he was still shocked as he looked down the endless stretch of mangled semis and crumpled cars on Interstate 94.

"It was like a war zone out there," he said.  "I never want to see it again. . .There were people in cars you couldn't even see.

“When people are stuck in their cars, they look at you like we’re Moses. Part the waters and save us,” Pawlik said. “We can’t show no fear or panic.”

Pawlik said he tried to "get human" with the people who were trapped to calm them down. He asked their names and sometimes joked.

"I said, 'Judy, I'm going to make you my priority, I’m going to get you out of here,' " Pawlik recalled. He brought her blankets to keep her warm in the brutal cold.

“I got to know another young man,  Jeff,’’ he said. “He was encased in semis. . .It took two hours to get him out. . .I said, ‘Jeff, you’re making us work for our money tonight.

"You try humor," Pawlik explained.  "It relieves the tension with the people out there.  'Hey, it's not as bad as it seems.' "

Pawlik, from the Coolspring Volunteer Fire Department near Michigan City, credited the quick work of firefighters and paramedics for saving lives.  Three people were killed in the accident Thursday afternoon, but Pawlik said the toll could have been much higher.

“We weren’t glory hounds or nothing,’’ the chief said. “For what it was, it was excellent. We’re lucky there weren’t 20 dead."

It took four hours to free everyone, the firefighters working around the people who had died at the scene. "You have the dead, those are the worst. You know they're there.

“It was such a devastating scene,’’ Pawlik said. “It’ll live with us forever.’’

Copyright 2014 Chicago Tribune
All Rights Reserved

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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