PROGRESS: Milton Fire & Rescue Chief Jason Long presented awards and talked about the clean-up and rebuilding efforts that have taken place in the year since a tornado demolished the department’s Station No. 2. Long’s presentation was part of a one-year anniversary dinner and appreciation service for all that helped Milton Fire & Rescue. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
PROGRESS: Milton Fire & Rescue Chief Jason Long presented awards and talked about the clean-up and rebuilding efforts that have taken place in the year since a tornado demolished the department’s Station No. 2. Long’s presentation was part of a one-year anniversary dinner and appreciation service for all that helped Milton Fire & Rescue. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
People gathered at the Milton Fire and Rescue Station No. 2 on Saturday to remember the storms that destroyed their building a year ago and the rebuilding process that took place after March 2, 2012.

A lot changed for the fire department a year ago. When members of the department gathered at Station No. 1 to prepare to help with any emergency calls from the storms, no one had any idea that they would be responding to an emergency of their own by the end of the night, Chief Jason Long said.

"I don't think any of us expected what we were going to get," he said of the storm.

By the time the tornadoes lifted in Trimble County on that day, the department's Station No. 2 had been hit with debris thrown throughout the nearby field. A fire truck, the fish fry trailer used for fundraising and other equipment had been destroyed in just minutes.

Now, a year later, a new building stands with a new fish fry trailer in one of the building's three bays where the former station once was located.

"It's actually hard to believe how far we've come," Long said.

The department did rebuild, just as the sign constructed hours after the storm said it would.

"We knew we had to," Long said.

Thanks to the help of several groups and people throughout the area, and others throughout the country, Milton Fire and Rescue replaced everything that was lost.

Milton Fire and Rescue received several offers of equipment from fire departments, which the Milton department turned down with thanks. Yet, one group of firefighters from the Lake Ridge Fire Department in Gary, Ind., wouldn't take "no" for an answer when they offered a fire truck they no longer used.

"They didn't give us a choice but to take it," Long said.

The department used the truck until insurance replaced equipment that the department lost, then Milton paid the generosity forward and donated the truck to another department in need.

Other people donated storage, clean-up equipment, time and manpower to tear down the old station during the rebuilding process

"All that encouragement kept us going," Long said. "Without that help, I'm not sure we could have made it."

The new station has more use now than ever before. The department uses the building for training and other events, and some firefighters now respond from that station instead of all of the firefighters being based at Station No. 1.

"It's not a sub-station anymore," Assistant Chief Tommy McQueary said.

The building features an additional bay, and has a storage room that can be used as a storm shelter.

Still, the department has a little way to go to achieve the normalcy that was disrupted a year ago on March 2, 2012.

"We're still trying to get back to the swing of things," Long said.