Local ER nurses look back at the aftermath of Bonfire collapse

Published: Nov. 17, 2019 at 10:12 PM CST
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Twenty years after 12 Aggies were killed when Bonfire collapsed, emergency room nurses who cared for the victims still remember that night like it was yesterday.

Tim Gray was an ER nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Bryan on the night of November 18, 1999. He used the work night shift, and it was always busy.

"Eerily, the ER had cleared out. I mean typically that time of year we were slammed full all night long,” said Gray.

By 2 a.m., the ER only had one patient.

"The trauma phone rang, and it was EMS saying we had a mass casualty accident and that the stack had fallen,” said Gray.

At 2:42 a.m., Bonfire collapsed, trapping dozens of Aggies under loads of heavy lumber. Doctors and nurses at St. Josephs knew there were injuries, but no one knew how badly.

Sherry Jennings worked as an ER nurse with Gray in 1999 and took the first patient to roll through the doors.

"We pulled back all the curtains in the room and more stretchers and patients started arriving,” said Jennings. “I remember it being very quiet. We work in quiet chaos in the world of trauma.”

"You stay focused because you've got a job to do, so you kind of put blinders on and sometimes, you don't deal with it,” said Gray.

Out of all the patients Gray treated that night, he says there was one that he will never forget.

"I said, ‘I need to get your phone number I want to call your mom,’ and he said ‘don't wake her up’. I said ‘no, we better call her; she needs to know what is going on.’ This kid was hurt, he was fatally wounded, and you know he didn't want to wake his mom up,” said Gray.

Jennings said that even though what happened that night was 20 years ago, she can still remember every moment of those first few hours.

"It’s like it was yesterday. I could walk you through minute by minute the things that happened,” said Jennings.

Jennings still works at CHI St. Joseph Health as Director of Trauma and Perioperative Services.

Gray works as a nurse practitioner at CHI St. Joseph Health. Even after 20 years of trauma patients, both say the memories of that night will stay with them forever.

"You hug your kids a little tighter, you tell your family you love them knowing that something like that is just a breath away,” said Gray. “These kids went out to build Bonfire. You know. It wasn't to spend the night with me in the ER.”

"I love that they don't ever forget. I love that that spirit, the aggie spirit, is going to go on forever. Unless you are a part of that community, or you live in this community, you can’t even understand,” said Jennings.

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