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Sandy police officer back in Utah after helping Kentucky tornado victims

SANDY, Utah — It’s almost like a calling.

Ask any law enforcement officer why they pursued this career, and you’ll often hear it’s because they want to help people. It’s what led Graham Tinius to the job and ultimately to the Sandy Police Department.

“I really like my job. A lot,” he said. “I think there are certain people who, when they see people in need, there’s just like, there’s a visceral reaction to help them.”

He has helped countless people during his career. So, when he saw the devastation in Kentucky from a tornado that hit earlier this month, he knew he had to help.

“There’s something in the DNA of first responders that makes us react a certain way when we see something,” Tinius said.

Kentucky is a state he fell in love with while visiting and bought a rental home as soon as he could. There’s a good chance he and his wife will live there some day.

He was able to get time off in Sandy and paid his own way to get to Kentucky. He slept in an office while teaming up with a law enforcement disaster response team.

Even for an experienced officer who is used to helping, what he saw in the small town of Mayfield was almost hopeless.

“I have never experienced devastation like that in my life. There’s insulation and dust in the air, like you can smell and taste. It was disappointing, because as you talk to people and learn their stories, the devastation got worse,” he said.

Everywhere he looked, homes were blown apart. Vehicles, including ambulances and firetrucks, were tossed around like matchbox cars. Many people died from the tornado.

Other lives were changed forever.

“They lost their house, their roof is gone, their possessions are in disarray. They’ve lost almost everything that they had and they lost their jobs.”

Tinius helped clean up debris, make meals for victims, and guided those who needed even more help to the right agencies. He and his team helped an apartment complex full of people with physical disabilities when a transformer blew into their complex and leaked oil everywhere.

“It was so slippery in there,” Tinius said. “There was one man in his 70s trying to pack up his stuff. We had eight to 13 able-bodied, middle-aged men who made short work of that apartment. I know it probably would have taken him days, if not longer, to try and pack up and he may have continued fallen or injured himself. We went in there and we were able to get his entire apartment emptied in like 30 minutes.”

Tinius spent five days in Kentucky experiencing things he never thought he would see.

Toward the end of his mission, he even started to see hope.

“The amount of help that we saw there, where people were coming from, like how many states just showed up, that was pretty cool,” he said.

Tinius is back home in Sandy now. He got back to his family just before Christmas grateful he had a home to return to.

“I do think we had a really positive impact on a select number of people that we were able to, to meet and help and assist,” Tinius said. “It was very humbling, like very humbling being out there.”

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