Man injured while helping community

Hometown Hero — Eric Duffy

Editor’s note: The Times-Republican Salute to Hometown Heroes award was presented to five recipients on the anniversary of the tornado. The nominating process was open to the public and a committee of local volunteers selected the awardees.

In the face of a disaster, heroes often work behind the scenes. Heroes don’t want the spotlight, they just want to step up and help who they can. But sometimes heroism comes at a cost.

Eric Duffy was one of countless people who came to help those impacted in some way. But his volunteerism eventually caused him an injury so severe he had to be flown by air ambulance to Des Moines.


Eric said his daughter is the real hero.

Mariah Duffy said that when she saw all the damage and destruction she knew that she wanted to help and asked her dad if they could. The next day Eric and Mariah returned with a chainsaw and went to help people.

“I said ‘Dad these people really need our help,'” Mariah said. “When Le Grand was hit with high winds we had a lot of people help us out and I just wanted to help pay people back.”

Eric said he and Mariah helped one friend by removing debris from her yard and after they finished there they then went to help Tony Weltzin, a friend who is wheelchair bound, remove debris from his yard because his shed was destroyed by the tornado.

Eric said that Weltzin already had enough help with his yard, and he saw that his friend’s neighbor was having trouble with a chainsaw so he went to help and remove the tree in their backyard. Mariah said she was really happy to be able to help these people, that is until the accident happened.

Eric was injured by the tree he was cutting down.

“I don’t really have much memory, it’s all second or third person, but the tree fell and hit me, landed on my head,” Eric said. “It broke my back and gave me a concussion.”

Mariah, 10 at the time, grabbed a rag and held it on his head to stop the bleeding while another person called an ambulance. Mariah said all she could think of in the moment was helping her dad.

Weltzin said Eric was up and walking around before the ambulance had arrived and that Eric had even tried to get in his truck and drive home, but the ambulance arrived just in time and the EMTs coaxed Eric over to the ambulance where they could take care of him.

Mariah said she almost got left behind when the ambulance was leaving but some of the people with her told the EMTs that Eric was her father so Mariah got to ride in the back with her dad until they had to stop to pick up a fireman to help stabilize Eric when his lung collapsed. Mariah then rode in the front of the ambulance until it got to the Marshalltown Emergency Room and Eric was taken by air ambulance to Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines.

There Eric remained for around two weeks, he says he doesn’t remember much about it or who came to visit but he knows Mariah was there with him the whole time.

“Hundreds of other people were doing what I was doing that day, I just happened to get hurt,” Eric said. “My daughter was the true hero, she acted brave and strong. She stayed with me the whole time.”

Eric said the recovery has been slow and he still has issues with pain and short term memory. He said he is still going to physical therapy and a pain doctor.

“This man gave his health helping others,” said Jeff Needs, the man who nominated Duffy for the award. “He was helping clean up after the tornado when he was injured with everlasting injuries to his head and I think he should walk away from this experience with something good.”

Needs said he worked with Duffy at JBS years ago and remembers him doing good back then. He said he nominated Duffy because of his amazing and selfless work during the tornado, even though he wasn’t personally helped by Duffy.

“There were a lot of people out there helping but he is just a really nice guy, helps people all the time,” Needs said. “And he ended up injured and I think he deserved something out of the deal.”