Local Nurse Serves Her Community in Tornado’s Aftermath


Toni Hurley, a registered nurse at the Mary Rutan Emergency Department and lifetime resident of Logan County, was at her Lewistown home the night of the March 14th tornado, just about 5 miles from its path. After she heard that the tornado had touched down mere miles from her, she immediately called her son, who she knew was near the tornado’s path at the time. Once she confirmed that he was safe, Toni jumped into action. 

Her selflessness was evident when she was first called to assist by staffing the triage command center with the Indian Lake EMS team. While there, the Logan County Sheriff’s Office made it evident that there was a pressing need for dispatchers to aid in rescue and recovery. When the question of dispatch experience arose, Toni, without hesitation, offered her help. “I have a little experience at Mary Rutan Hospital with dispatch, more than a lot of people might, so I did what was most needed of me at the time.” Toni had used the radios at Mary Rutan Hospital before to receive reports from local EMS teams, so she selflessly stepped in and assisted with emergency dispatch until nearly 3 a.m. Friday morning.

Exhausted, Toni went home for a few hours of rest before she was back on the scene at 7 a.m. Much of her morning was spent at the Russells Point Command Center, where she took squad runs with BMRT’s Chris Bair. This squad run, which should’ve taken 2 minutes to reach a patient, took 12 minutes due to so many roads being closed or blocked. However, Toni’s extensive knowledge of the area as a life-long resident lent itself to her and the team that day as she expertly guided the squad to emergency areas using little-known routes and by studying maps of the area.

After spending time in the emergency squad, Toni, a Logan County CISM (Crisis Incident Stress Management) team member, along with Chris Bair, another CISM team member, started to put together a plan to bring a team in to meet the mental health needs of first responders. Toni knew that counseling and mental health assessments would be necessary in this situation. They got two local counselors, Tammy Nicholl, and Shannon Maier, to the Russells Point Command Center on Friday afternoon to speak with first responders who may have needed their help. While they were present, Toni could direct them to the Lakeview Command Center and Indian Lake High School to talk to teachers and other staff who were staffing that location.

Later that same day, still running on a few hours of sleep, Toni’s youngest daughter, Marah, came home from the University of Findlay with a bunch of donations for the I.L. community that the college had donated. Marah is in school studying veterinary medicine, so while she was home, after donating the supplies to a local donation drop-off point, Marah and Toni joined K9 Army and the Champaign County Animal Welfare League in completing pet search and rescue at the tornado site. While on scene, they recovered a few cats from the area and got them to safety. They then took the displaced animals to Home Away from Home, where two local vets, the owner of Home Away from Home and Marah, vetted all the animals coming in to be checked on. What hit Toni hardest was when a man who lost his home, his belongings, and everything he owned handed Toni his dog so it could be boarded for the time being. Toni says the man looked at her and said, “This dog is the very last thing that I have to my name. Please take care of it.” It hit Toni, then, that the community she loves had lost so much, evoking a deep sense of empathy. 

Saturday and Sunday after the tornado, Toni was scheduled to work in the Emergency Room. She was torn because she wanted to go out with the volunteer teams and cleanup crews, but she knew she would be needed at the Emergency Room to help those who needed emergency care. 

Toni says she comes from a long line of people who want to help others. Many in her family currently work or have worked in medicine. Her eldest daughter, Brittany, worked in the Emergency Department all day Friday while Toni volunteered with Marah. Toni has been at Mary Rutan for many years, working in the Emergency Department, and providing expert emergency medical care to her community. It was second nature to her to be there for her community that day. “We are a lake family,” Toni says. 

Toni is a great asset to our team and our community,” said Brenda Price, Director of the Mary Rutan Emergency Department. “Our staff trains for and is always ready for disaster situations like these. Toni was in her element. I saw many of our staff members do what they do best out in the community right after the storm and during cleanup efforts. We had staff members on-site distributing supplies, cleaning up debris, and caring for others in whatever way they could. Hundreds of hours were given to helping our Indian Lake community. We are a mighty team, and Toni is one of those people who keeps us and our community moving forward during situations like the tornado because of their expertise and heart.” 

Now, weeks after the tornado, Toni goes around passing out bracelets that read “Indian Lake 2024, Stronger than the Storm” to remind others that they are loved and part of her Indian Lake family. She says that she is “here for the long haul.” She will continue to help her community in whatever capacity they need her, be it mom, dispatcher, animal rescuer, CISM, Emergency Department nurse, or someone to talk to. This act of unity and resilience in the face of adversity is a testament to the strength and spirit of the Indian Lake community, instilling a sense of pride and belonging in all who hear her story.