Losing a Brother: A first-hand account from the Clinton Fire Department

“At the same time they hear the radio traffic that they have two helicopters around, and they cancel one. So you know we lost a brother.”

CLINTON, Iowa-- For the first time since the incident, Clinton firefighters take a look back and give a first-hand account of the morning a grain silo exploded. It's a story that could be hard to read; it's a story that's even harder for firefighters to tell. But they're sharing their story to remind us all of the risk first responders take every day to keep us safe.

Engines ready, the crew inside, this fire family moves forward. But to understand the importance of this moment, have to look back to January 5, 2019.

"5:44 I think was the time for a grain fire at ADM," remembers 23-year-old firefighter Adam Cain.

He was there. He doesn't remember much.

Clinton Fire Marshal Jeff Chapman, though, he will never forget.

"Chaos, slow motion if you will. To see members of your department, I'm not even sure the term to use. In my mind they were temporarily emotionally insane," says Chapman.

A silo was on fire. Adam Cain and Lieutenant Eric Hosette were on that silo fighting the blaze. Then it exploded as Adam and Hosette are 88-feet up in the air.

"That's the time I came up, when they were bringing Adam Cain out of the silo. They had 12 people in a very tight area to bring Adam Cain down a series of ladders to get into an ambulance," remembers Chapman.

Adam was badly hurt, but he was still breathing.

"At the same time they hear the radio traffic that they have two helicopters around, and they cancel one. So you know we lost a brother," says Chapman. "Very quickly we found out we lost Eric [Hosette], that we knew it was Eric."

Dealing with the loss of a brother, fighting to save another, and still battling that fire, all of it happening at once.

Hours after the fire was put out, news travels to now Fire Chief Joel Atkinson. He was out of town. The explosion was during his shift.

"I got back on Monday morning. Came in and, just came in and tried to find out what my role was, and then support these guys in what they were already doing," explains Atkinson, trying to hold back tears.

Right then he was a fire father, realizing his sons were on the front lines without him, a wound still red and raw in his mind.

"I don’t think any of us will forget him coming back to the station. It was emotional," recalls Chapman.

Right away the community near and far jumped in to help. Fire crews from surrounding areas came to Clinton to take over the daily calls, covering for their grieving brothers. And the Clinton community came out by the hundreds, showing their support for the department, praying Adam would recover, honoring Lieutenant Eric Hosette and his sacrifice.

"I really believe Adam is alive today because Eric was up there with him," says Atkinson.

Adam Cain spent weeks in the hospital, months recovering after. But he made his way back to work, beating the odds. He says he did it to honor Eric Hosette.

A year later this fire family moves forward, never forgetting how they got here today. Eric Hosette is missed and honored everyday.

"His memory will continue to serve for the rest of our lives in the Clinton Fire Department," says Chapman.

A federal investigation into the explosion is still ongoing. That report will produce recommendations to departments nationwide to help protect firefighters. And crews in Clinton say these safety reports are working. In 2019, Chief Atkinson says there were 57 firefighter deaths. That's down 30 from 2018.