'This is family': Belvidere fire lieutenant recalls sending firefighters into collapsed theater

ByStephanie Wade WLS logo
Tuesday, April 4, 2023
Belvidere fire lieutenant recalls response to deadly roof collapse
Lt. Dan Drall recalled sending firefighters into a compromised Apollo Theatre to help the victims of a Belvidere, Illinois roof collapse.

BELVIDERE, Ill. (WLS) -- Belvidere Fire Department Lt. Dan Drall was among the first on scene when the ceiling collapsed on people in a packed metal concert at the Apollo Theatre.

Immediately, he said, firefighters jumped into action.

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"The first five minutes dictates the next five hours of the scene. We've always talked about that. In those first five minutes, these guys just excelled," Drall said.

He quickly realized the structure was compromised after a tornado tore off the marquee. He had to make the life-altering decision of sending firefighters into the unstable building that could cave in any moment.

"That's the hardest thing an officer has to do, is to command somebody to go inside. This is my brother, this is my sister. This is family. I'm putting them in harm's way," Drall said.

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It's a decision that, days later, still weighs heavy on him.

"This is what I'm gonna think about for the rest of my life, as I'm thankful that nothing happened, that we didn't have any casualties. I couldn't live with myself," Drall said.

"To unbury, at least, at least 10 people from debris, there was probably, initially, seven firefighters, probably five police officers, and 30 concertgoers," said BFD Chief Shawn Schadle.

Video shows the concerted effort by dozens who helped lift the fallen roof to save those underneath.

"Probably more than they ever lifted before to help somebody that's buried. Some of them, you couldn't even see them. They were under somewhere," Drall said.

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Sadly, one man passed away that night. He was unable to escape the rubble.

It was an experience Drall said they'll be reflecting on as a department for days and weeks to come.