10 Years of Recovery: Firefighter Remembers How Tornado Changed Alberta
This story is airing as part of WVUA 23’s “Faces of the Storm: 10 Years Later.” Watch it on WVUA 23 at 7 and 9 p.m. April 27, and at 8 p.m. May 1. The show will be available on our YouTube channel beginning April 28.
By WVUA 23 News Reporter Aajene Robinson
April 27, 2011, spelled destruction for many neighborhoods, towns and even cities around Alabama. Tuscaloosa’s Alberta area was no exception.
Homes, businesses, churches and even Fire Station No. 4 wound up in ruins in the wake of the devastating EF4 tornado.
WVUA 23’s Aajene Robinson caught up with Capt. Jeff Roberts, who was captain at the station that fateful day.
“That morning me and my crew met and discussed if something happens where we are going to go,” Roberts said.
None of them had any idea how bad things would get.
Throughout the day, the crew at No. 4 continued making their rounds while keeping up to date on the location and conditions surrounding Tuscaloosa.
“We saw the (tornado) coming in Greene County and it was coming towards Tuscaloosa so we were watching it,” Roberts said.
Initially, Roberts said the Station No. 4 crew was worried for Station No. 7, because the original reports suggested the tornado was heading south toward Skyland Boulevard.
“Then we lost cable and power,” Roberts said. “So we decided even though we didn’t think the tornado was coming towards us to go ahead and get in our safe space, which we had identified that morning was going to be the shower.”
That decision may well have saved their lives. They piled into the shower and pulled a mattress over their head as the tornado whirled overhead.
“The entire station was in a blender,” Roberts said.
Once everything went still, Roberts and his crew left the bathroom to find the station’s back wall and windows gone. The apartment buildings behind the station were in just as bad shape.
They took a few moments to collect themselves, but their first responder instincts quickly took over. Gathering all the equipment they could salvage, the firefighters set off on their mission to help as many people as possible.
What got them through it all? Seeing the community come together in the wake of such a tragedy, Roberts said.
“We stayed in Alberta every day,” Roberts said. “Helping people, searching for victims, helping people clear debris from their yards. I really think that helped the community to bring everyone together when they helped clean all that up.”
Roberts is no longer captain of Fire Station No. 4. Today, he’s Battalion Chief Jeff Roberts for Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue, but No. 4 in Alberta will always hold a special place in his heart.
“I was there as a firefighter and a lieutenant, and I got a chance to be the captain of the station, so it was sad to see that station go,” Roberts said.
Fire Station No. 4 was rebuilt in 2015, but a memento from the original building remains. The tornado tore through the station at 5:08 p.m., and the clock that stopped at that moment sits in a case as a permanent reminder of everything that was lost that day.