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Lifeguards' common sense decisions save lives in tornado

Photo by Brittin Roberts Keeley Timm was one of the Wadena lifeguards who kept their wits about them and saved lives in the storm.

When the chips were down the afternoon of June 17 a group Wadena lifeguards kept their heads and made a life-saving decision.

Keeley Timm was one of several lifeguards on duty Thursday afternoon at the Wadena Municipal Swimming Pool on Sixth Street Southwest. Hannah Toedter, Emily Fuhrman and Mariah Wood were also there as well as an off-duty lifeguard, Neil Janson.

It was open swimming that afternoon, but at 3 p.m. when the weather started to look threatening, the lifeguards called parents to come and pick up their kids before closing the pool.

Two girls who had arrived on their bicycles had to wait for their parents, who did not have a car. Timm and her fellow lifeguards were waiting with the girls in the pool office when the first siren sounded in Wadena. An eerie calm descended on Wadena and the lifeguards decided it was time to move.

Since Wood lived right across the street, they called the parents of the girls and told them they were taking shelter in the basement of the Wood residence. They were in the basement when the siren sounded again.

"We put the two little girls under us and we linked our arms," Timm said.

The lights went out, and in the inky darkness they could hear the funnel coming.

The change in air pressure made their ears pop. The girls were crying and the lifeguards were talking to them, trying to keep them calm. The EF4 tornado, packing 170 mile-per-hour winds, passed over the Wood residence in about 30 seconds. Apart from some cuts and scrapes on their legs, everyone was OK.

"We're taught to follow our instincts," Timm said. "Those kids are our responsibility and we have to find a way to protect them. Everyone of us were willing to put our lives on the line for those little girls."

Timm was very proud of her fellow lifeguards.

"We were pretty scared, but we were also pretty calm," Timm said.