This will be a run to remember for OK survivor and rescuer

Jenni Carlson The Oklahoman

Amy Downs felt like she was going on a first date. Nervous. Excited. Didn’t know what to expect.

But as soon she saw Allen Hill walking across the parking lot last week, she started smiling. By the time he opened the second set of glass doors at Allegiance Credit Union, she looked like she might strain a muscle she was smiling so big.

“I know who this is,” she said, laughing.OK survivor & FF

They hugged, and nearly 20 years evaporated.

That’s how long it’s been since they met, brought together by the bomb that exploded outside the Murrah Building. Amy was inside. Allen was a firefighter, a first responder, a rescuer.

Her rescuer.

They are forever tied together by that April day in 1995, but they are soon to be tied together by another April day. Amy and Allen will run the half marathon Sunday at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. It is called a run to remember.

Amy and Allen have never forgotten.

Amy was sitting in her office on the third floor of the Murrah Building on the morning of April 19, 1995. She had worked for the Federal Employees Credit Union for seven years, and her desk was just a few feet from the glass windows that looked down on the street in front of the building.

A co-worker came in and sat down just as Amy’s phone rang. She took the call, then when she finished and hung up, she turned to ask her co-worker what she needed.

Amy isn’t sure if she said the words or not.

There was a concussive noise, then a rushing sensation. Amy thought she had been shot in the back of the head. Working for a financial institution, an armed robbery is always a concern.

“I’m dying,” Amy thought. “I’m falling.

And she was falling, three floors in the collapsing building. All around her, people were screaming. Concrete and re-bar and office furniture rained down.

Finally, everything stopped moving. Amy was in complete darkness. She didn’t know what was up and what was down. She spit things out of her mouth, thinking it was her teeth, not knowing it was dirt and insulation and debris from the building.

She screamed for help.

No one answered.

Allen was in his firetruck heading toward the fairgrounds. He had been with the Oklahoma City Fire Department for two decades, and working out of Station 8 in Stockyard City, he and two of his firefighters had decided to go and do some hose testing.

They crossed the river on Agnew and were almost to Reno when their rig shook.

Allen looked around trying to figure out what happened and soon saw a dark plume of smoke rising out of downtown. He knew there had been an explosion. He didn’t know what had happened. He didn’t know how it had happened. His training was to worry about all of that later. But he knew that his crew would be needed.

They turned and headed toward downtown.

They parked on the east side of the building, and when Allen saw the massive amount of destruction, he turned to one of his guys who had only been on the job five months.

“You’re going to see a lot of stuff in here that you’ve probably never seen before,” Allen told the rookie, “and I just want you to remember, you’re not going to be able to fix it all, you’re not going to be able to help it all, and you didn’t cause it.”

What Allen and his crew saw made him think they weren’t going to find anyone alive.

But soon, they found a woman buried by the rubble. They worked to free her, but then Allen’s radio crackled. There was another bomb. They had to evacuate.

Once they got the all-clear nearly an hour later, Allen got word that there was someone in the area where water from the building’s broken pipes was pooling. He led his crew that way, but as they picked through the rubble, they noticed a hand.

It was Amy’s.

A first responder had found Amy before the bomb scare. He told her that his name was Ron, but once the rescuers had to evacuate the building, she never saw Ron again.

Instead, it was Allen and his crew that came to her rescue.

The concrete of one of the collapsed floors landed on the concrete of another floor at a 45-degree angle. Amy was folded up and wedged into the V that those foot-thick concrete slabs created.

Allen couldn’t see much of her at first, but as he and his crew cleared off debris, they saw that Amy was bent at the waist and upside down. Her upper body was intertwined with some curtains and blinds, and her lower body was trapped by metal.

Her right leg had a massive gash, her back was littered with embedded glass, and part of the challenge faced by Allen and his crew was to move the debris around her without causing any more harm.

That included harm to themselves. A massive industrial refrigerator dangled by a couple conduits from the unstable rubble above them.

“Allen,” Amy asked several times, “do you think you guys are going to be able to get me out.”

“We’re going to do our best,” he told her every time.

That wasn’t necessarily a comfort to Amy — and it would be the source of ribbing for years to come — but Allen wanted to be honest. At first, he wasn’t sure that they would be able to free her. But the longer they worked, the more confident he was.

One of the main reasons was Amy’s attitude.

People who Allen helped as a firefighter were often scared, and Amy was, too. But he could also sense her positive attitude. The way she talked to him. The way she answered questions. She wanted to live.

More than six hours after the bomb exploded, Allen and his crew freed Amy from the rubble. She had been bent over and upside down for so long that her pain was intense as they lifted her out.

Then, she got her first look at what was around her. From hearing the panicked voices and sometimes profanity-laced conversations of other rescuers, she knew the situation was bad. But seeing it was something else entirely.

“This isn’t real,” she thought as she lay on a body board being carried to a waiting ambulance.

Not long after, Allen walked out of the building with his crew. The spring day that had dawned warm and sunny had turned cold and drizzly.

“What happened to this day?” he thought.

A little over a month later, Amy and Allen reunited. On the day of the bombing, they’d talked about many things, and at one point, Amy made Allen a promise.

“I will make you cookies if you get me out alive,” she told him.

She delivered them to the fire station. There were hugs. There were smiles. There were laughs. There might’ve even been promises to keep in touch.

But for the better part of 20 years, Amy and Allen never saw each other. They became friends on Facebook, so they kept track of one another.

Amy got married, had a son, lost nearly 200 pounds, and started running and biking, fulfilling a promise to God that she wouldn’t live her life the same if she got out of the Murrah Building alive. Allen continued fighting fires and saving lives, added some grandkids to his brood, then retired from the fire department. But their paths never crossed.

Then last April, Amy was running the half marathon at the Memorial Marathon and she started thinking about Allen. It was around mile eight — Amy jokes that’s about the time runners start concocting ideas that they believe are brilliant but in reality are nuts — and she started considering the significance of the 2015 race. It would be the 20th anniversary of the bombing and the 15th anniversary of the Memorial Marathon.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if Allen, if my rescuer, could run this with me?” she thought. “Wouldn’t it just be awesome?”

She started to tear up as she thought about it.

Not long after the race, Amy sent Allen a message.

“Do you think there are any rescuers who would want to run the half marathon with me?” she asked.

Allen was the only one who agreed.

“Hello, where are the others?” Amy said, a twinkle in her eye.

“I contacted all of them,” Allen said, trying to explain. “A lot of them are involved with family … ”

Amy cut him off.  “They’re losers,” she deadpanned.

Together, Amy and Allen laughed as they sat side by side recently in a conference room at Allegiance Credit Union, formerly known as the Federal Employees Credit Union. Their laughter was that of mutual understanding — people who choose to run 13.1 miles might actually be the insane ones.

Seriously, though, Allen thought the idea of running the half marathon with Amy was a good one as soon as she proposed it. His son had run the full marathon before, so Allen had seen the course and experienced the finish line.

He can’t wait to run that course and cross that line himself.

Amy has done the half several times at the Memorial Marathon, but crossing the finish line this year will be different because Allen will be running. Their paths crossed so many Aprils ago, but now, their paths will be the same once again.

“I don’t have cookies this time,” Amy said, that twinkle back in her eye. “This time, I’m going to make him run with half marathon with me.”

At that, Amy and Allen were laughing again.

They know that running 13.1 miles won’t be easy. It will be physically demanding. It will be mentally challenging. But they won’t be alone. They will have the memory of those who were killed. They will have the strength of those who were affected.

And, of course, they will have each other.

This entry was posted in 9/11 Community. Bookmark the permalink.