Oklahoman hospitality has not changed in 20 years, but the state’s capital has, Ed Hrivnak said.
The Central Pierce Fire & Rescue assistant chief spoke to The News Tribune from Oklahoma City on Sunday, where he and several other local responders attended ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the deadly bombing of the federal building.
“It was almost like stepping back into time,” he said.
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Their return trip two decades later marks the first time they’ve all been together since, Hrivnak said.
The group expected to have a light schedule for the weekend, but when locals realized they were in town, they were invited to nonstop dinners, luncheons and meetings.
“You cannot say no to Oklahoman hospitality,” he said.
They were told repeatedly that their money was no good in the city, as locals stepped in and paid for coffee and provided meals.
It was almost as overwhelming as the generosity they saw from the community when they were in the middle of rescue efforts there, Hrivnak said.
During the trip, they had their experiences recorded on video for a local museum.
They also shared those memories among themselves.
The group confided things to one another about the tragedy that they hadn’t talked about before, Hrivnak said.
That was cathartic, he added, and is an indication of how times have changed since the 1995 attack.
Hrivnak said three of the five who responded to Oklahoma also helped with rescue efforts following last year’s Oso landslide, and he feels they did a better job de-stressing after that work. Better systems are in place for that now, he said.
As they shared their stories with one another, the group noticed the people of Oklahoma City have as much resolve and strength as they did two decades ago, Hrivnak said, but the place itself was different.
“There was so much hurt and devastation when we were here 20 years ago,” he said. “You could actually see the healing process, how it has worked on the city. It has been completely renovated. We can’t even recognize it from what we saw.”