Even in midst of OSU homecoming tragedy, Fort Worth firefighter felt God's presence

by Lance Murray

North Texas Catholic

Fort Worth Fire Lieutenant David Tompkins stands beside the fire engine at Station 15 in Fort Worth's North Side. (Photo by Lance Murray / NTC)

Fort Worth Fire Lieutenant David Tompkins will never forget the tragic events of Oct. 24, 2015, a day when his skills as a firefighter/emergency medical technician saved lives, and a day when he felt the presence of God all around him.

Tompkins became a hero that day, a title he humbly brushes aside, but one for which he’s been honored. It’s a title his fellow firefighters at Station 15 on Fort Worth’s North Side realize he’s earned.

Tompkins, an 18-year veteran of the department, gets emotional when he thinks about that day. Tears filled his eyes as he shared his story with the NTC — only the third time he’s related the entire story to someone, he said.

“I’m a very emotional person, and this Oklahoma State tragedy is very emotional,” Tompkins said. It’s led him to think about, “life, and how my Catholic faith has led me to where I am today.”

The day began as a fun off-duty visit to Stillwater, Oklahoma, with his wife, Christine, and daughter, Angie, for her final homecoming at Oklahoma State University. It ended in tragedy and carnage when a woman plowed her car into the homecoming parade crowd, killing four and injuring more than 40 other people.

Tompkins and his family had arrived late at the parade route and found a spot near the end to set up lawn chairs and view the parade. They decided to change sides of the street, and then decided to return to their original position.

“Then it happened,” Tompkins said.

As they watched the parade, a loud sound suddenly grabbed their attention. Christine and Angie thought a bomb had gone off, but Tompkins’ experience as a firefighter told him something different. He realized a car had crashed into the crowd at the spot they had been sitting just minutes earlier on the other side of the street.

The scene “went from a state of fun to a sense of tragedy in seconds,” he said.

Tompkins sprinted the 15 yards to where the car came to rest, and arrived at its door at the same time as another man.

“She was alert, conscious, and oriented,” Tompkins said of the woman in the driver’s seat.

The other man stayed at the car, and with the woman secured inside awaiting police, Tompkins began to assess injuries.

“This is total chaos,” Tompkins thought. He asked a police officer for yellow tape to cordon off the area where the injured people were.

Then, Tompkins heard someone saying, “A little boy over here needs your help.”

He found the small red-haired boy lying on his mother’s stomach. The 2-year-old boy, who Tompkins later found out was named Nash, was badly injured and breathing shallowly.

“We need to go,” Tompkins told the boy’s mother, but a broken ankle prevented her from moving.

“I picked Nash up,” and headed to the first ambulance on the scene, Tompkins said.

“This boy’s critical, we need to go now,” Tompkins told the paramedics. With the mother injured, Nash’s grandmother accompanied him in the ambulance. Nash eventually was taken by helicopter to a children’s hospital in Oklahoma City, where he died, Tompkins said.

After getting off the ambulance, Tompkins said he continued assessing injuries and helped triage the injured on tarps. He even did written documentation on tags so that emergency room personnel would know what treatments had been done at the scene on each injured person.

“After Nash got transported, ambulances were arriving – general citizens were helping,” Tompkins said.

Then, “out of nowhere, here are helicopters landing [at the parade site],” Tompkins said. The timing of their arrival was a clear sign of God’s presence, Tompkins said.

Eventually, the injured were taken to hospitals, and the car’s driver was arrested.

The driver, identified as Adacia Chambers, faces four counts of second-degree murder and 42 counts of assault and battery. Her attorney plans to raise an insanity defense at her trial that is scheduled for January 2017, according to news reports.

That day has impacted Tompkins in many ways.

“I pray about it,” he said. “I reflect on what my role is now.”

Tompkins is sure, though, of God’s role in his life.

“I was placed there by Him for a reason,” Tompkins said.

Tompkins thinks about Nash often.

“I wish he was back,” said Tompkins, who went to the boy’s funeral. “He was a 2-year-old boy who had his whole life ahead of him.”

Tompkins didn’t talk about the incident after it happened, and Fort Worth fire officials found out about it when a friend of Nash’s family wrote the Fort Worth fire chief seeking the identity of the Fort Worth fire lieutenant who was so heroic that day.

The Fort Worth Fire Department honored Tompkins as the 2015 Firefighter of the Year and the Humanitarian of the Year.  He received some money along with the recognition, and he and his wife found a good use for it.

They donated money to the music and physical education departments at St. Maria Goretti Catholic School at St. Maria Goretti Church in Arlington, where the Tompkins are parishioners.

“We thought, ‘what would a 2-year-old boy like?’” Tompkins said of the donation.

Tompkins said he’s gradually been able to deal with the memories.

“It’s slowing down a little bit,” he said. “But, there were months that I’d think of Nash.”

Tompkins’ family and his faith have given him strength.

“I’ve been blessed,” Tompkins said. “I married my high school sweetheart and have four beautiful children.”

Tompkins eventually found a photo of Nash on Google Images and keeps it in his workshop at home as a reminder of the boy who will forever be in his thoughts.

“I wish I could have done more,” Tompkins said of Nash. “I will see him again, I have no doubt.”

Fort Worth Fire Lieutenant David Tompkins will never forget the tragic events of Oct. 24, 2015, a day when his skills as a firefighter/emergency medical technician saved lives, and a day when he felt the presence of God all around him.

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