Firefighters often are viewed as heroes. During the Nov. 17 tornadoes, Manhattan firefighters earned an extra badge of honor.

Despite the destruction in some pockets of Will County, no one was injured in Manhattan, as many people heard the tornado sirens and took shelter. Terry Doyle, Manhattan’s emergency services manager, credits firefighters for helping alert citizens to the approaching twister.

Drew Hughes, Dave Kolosh and Brandon Pfizenmaier were working a 7 a.m. to 7 a.m. shift as they watched the storm from the Manhattan Fire Protection District’s Station 2 on Illinois 52 in Wilton Township. They had the station doors open to the east and watched out a window to the south.

Suddenly, they saw a “wall of water” and the winds shift suddenly from northeast to due west. That’s when they called Station 1 to report the oncoming storm.

Doyle said he sounded the first alarm when there was a tornado sighting near Wilmington and issued a second alarm after Station 2 made its report.

“It got my heart racing a little bit because we had a car with a baby and a mother stop in (the station),” Kolosh said.

The woman had two small children with her and sought shelter.

The Manhattan district firefighters soon were responding to tornado damage along Bruns Road. Lt. Ed Ludwig, a lifelong Manhattan resident who was assigned to Station 1, said their training allowed them to stay focused amid the chaos and damage.

“Firefighters are not immune to emotions,” Ludwig said, adding that the lack of death or injuries made it easier to deal with the situation.

Their first job was to make sure that all residents were accounted for, and then they focused on keeping people safe from downed power lines and away from damaged houses and buildings.

Ludwig credited the affected families and the community for helping maintain order and pulling together in the shocking initial hours after the tornado.

Hughes, Kolosh and Pfizenmaier agreed that the Manhattan area was lucky to avoid greater damage and serious injuries or death. Because of that, it wasn’t the worst day they’ve had as firefighters, they said.

“I would say it was one of the calls you will probably never forget,” Pfizenmaier said.