There in a minute -- Minuteman Rapid Response provides relief to Alto tornado victims

by By Michelle Dillon
Photo by Michelle Dillon
A group of Minuteman Disaster Relief volunteers gather for a briefing before getting to work clearing debris at Caddo Mounds. Photo by Michelle Dillon
A group of Minuteman Disaster Relief volunteers gather for a briefing before getting to work clearing debris at Caddo Mounds.

The Minuteman Rapid Response team was on site in Alto the same day the tornadoes struck the small town. They were followed by the Minuteman Disaster Response (MDR) team, which essentially became part of the emergency management staff, working with the victim relief center.

The Minuteman organization, based in McKinney, is an independent non-profit consisting of two paid positions, executive director and director, and numerous volunteers.

Those who volunteer with Minuteman come from all walks of life including pilot, preacher, schoolteachers, retirees, executives, entrepreneurs, first responders, mechanics and electricians, according to Michael Gamble, director of relief team operations and Kevin Mechler, deputy director of relief team operations.

Minuteman provides safety training as well as training on machines and tools for all the volunteers.

“We don’t want to add to the disaster by becoming part of the disaster,” Gamble said.

The team in Alto has approximately 20 volunteers on site as some come and some go during their stay.

Kevin Rowell, a resident in New London, showed up with a saw wanting to do something. He stated he had seen the news and wanted to help. This was his first time as a disaster relief volunteer. As a newly self-employed supply chain consultant he is able to dictate his own schedule, allowing him to provide assistance.

Gamble remarked that Rowell’s attitude is the same as his and three others in 2011 when an EF5 tornado devastated Joplin, Mo. The four men “just wanted to do something.” They delivered supplies that had been collected and, after arriving, found out there were mountains of water and other items.

The group toured the area and it was the first time Gamble had ever seen the results of such a disaster.

“I’d watched the movie Twister and thought I was prepared,” Gamble commented. “When you see total devastation like that it changes you. It just changed all of us. There’s a smell and a sound to a disaster site and there’s no media can convey that. So that really hit us and we said we’ve got to do more.”

Though the group continued to provide aide following other disasters, it took two years to find their niche. At one point, the men were discussing the need to respond faster, like Paul Revere and the Minutemen. Suddenly the group had a name.

The mission of MDR, as stated on their website, is “to save lives and provide assistance in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. We offer life-saving services at disaster scenes by providing well-trained, well-equipped, self-contained task forces and strike teams to assist in search and rescue, emergency medical operations, disaster scene management and emergency communications.”

To learn more about the organization, to join the Minuteman Disaster Response, or to donate to the non-profit; visit

The group can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter.

The organization can also be contacted through the website, by calling (214) 585-2411 or by sending an email to