28 Years Ago: Medical Volunteers Create Refuge For Rescue Workers After Murrah Building Bombing

It's been 28 years since the Murrah Building bombing and we're still hearing new stories from April 19, 1995. We talked with medical volunteers who dropped everything to set up a refuge for the rescue workers in Oklahoma City.

Wednesday, April 19th 2023, 10:47 pm



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Twenty-eight years ago on April 19, a long,17-day search and rescue mission began after the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building. First responders near and far flooded Oklahoma City to help.

Shelly Clay had just finished a double shift in the newborn unit at a metro hospital. Instead of climbing into bed, she turned on the TV to see downtown OKC after the explosion. She was 23, months out of nursing school, and knew she had to go.

“They put notice out through the hospital and my mom and I said, ‘Yeah, we want to help.’ We came the next day and worked two full days down here,” said nurse Shelly Clay.

At ground zero, Clay and a team of doctors and nurses jumped in to help.

“The workers, of course, were in horrible conditions, you know, going through the building and they even have the rescue dogs,” said Clay. “And so, there were lots of cuts and scrapes and, you know, tetanus shot needs. We could doctor the dog's paws, give B12 shots for stamina because they would work all night and these workers looked so drained.”

The tiny makeshift medical stand met immediate needs on site. But a block away, a city was forming.

The mayor of it - a take-charge, make-it-happen kind of lady - Dr. Sheila Simpson. Simpson was a metro family practice doctor at the time.

“My husband, who was on the police force at that time, was telling me about what he had done that day. He was on the emergency response team, had been at the site. And I was telling him how frustrated I was because I wanted to do something to help. And he said, ‘Why don't you come down with me tomorrow?'” recalled Dr. Simpson.

An ambitious Dr. Simpson closed her private practice and began recruiting.

“I sent out this fax. I got this huge response. Every doctor I knew at the hospital sent me back information. 'Just tell me when and we'll be there,'” said Dr. Simpson.

The eager team was formed and dubbed their new home the "OKC MASH unit." In 2023, it's OCU’s School of Law. But then, in 1995, it was the Southwestern Bell center and they turned the parking garage into the command center.

“I saw we needed meds for these rescue workers. Some of them started having bacterial infections from breathing this dust in. They were walking through debris, cutting their feet through thick soled boots. They were getting blisters and we got podiatrists down to start working on their feet,” said Dr. Simpson.

The injuries and ailments grew and so did their city of help. Fifty volunteers and everything a worker might want, from cough drops to allergy medicine, was provided. And then there was emotional support.

“We would give them hugs and ask 'Did you find a body today?'” said Dr. Simpson.

Dr. Simpson and Clay were also feeling the loss of one of their own. Chair 168 is for Rebecca Anderson.

Rebecca was a nurse who rushed to the federal building as soon as she learned of the tragedy. She died from a head injury sustained while trying to rescue victims.

“I hate that that happened, but she gave her life for her fellow man. Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his fellow man,” said Dr. Simpson.

The "city” of helpers closed after 17 days. Search and rescue was over and it was time for demolition. But the memories and life lessons learned can never be torn down.

“Just as fresh as it was like yesterday. Those are the sites, the things that you hadn’t seen at 23 years old. It really made an impact on me. A lot of lives have been shattered, not just the ones lost, but millions were affected,” said Clay.

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