For West First Responders, Much-Needed Relief in Sight
Of the 14 confirmed fatalities in the West fertilizer plant explosion, 10 were first responders. Most were from West, but some were from nearby service districts like Abbott, Mertens and Navarro Mills, and one was a fire captain in the Dallas Fire Department who lived in West.
Of the town's 33 volunteer firefighters, five were killed and 11 were hospitalized in the explosion.
Statewide efforts to bring in reinforcements began almost as soon the dust settled, said Paul Hanneman, chief of fire operations for the Texas A&M Forest Service.
In total, 12 firefighters from the North Texas towns of Waxahachie, Red Oak and Cedar Hill departments traveled to West to cover shifts for the West Volunteer Fire Department, bringing with them two fire engines, a command vehicle and a rescue vehicle.
“The attempt will be to give the community and their first responders that long-term recovery, which is going to take a while,” Hanneman said. “But, I will tell you, that Texans are helping Texans, and it’s in a big way there.”
But Hanneman says that the firefighters in West were not the only first responders facing limited resources. The West EMS facility was “basically destroyed,” Hanneman said, but the state’s effort to help the reeling city is making some progress. The Department of State Health Services is assisting EMS in West with their long-term plan to re-establish services, and the Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force is working with both the Texas Fire Chiefs Association and the Texas State Association of Professional Firefighters to inventory what the West VFD will need to rebuild.
Chris Barron is the executive director of the State Fireman’s and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas and he says that the agency’s task force will assess the condition of the department’s equipment following the blast.
“They’re looking at what equipment they have left, they’re looking at their protective clothing that they have. Some of their equipment might not be any good anymore just due to the hazardous materials that were there at the explosion,” Barron said. “So a lot of their gear might just be thrown away just because of the hazmat incident.”
Hanneman said that he expects a possible long-term plan to come into shape within the next few days, but rebuilding the town will take a long time for both citizens and first responders in West.
“It’s something that just doesn’t happen overnight,” Hanneman said. “There are a bunch of pieces to a jigsaw puzzle here and [we’re] trying to put all those together so we can have a full picture, and we’re not there yet.”