Texas Tragedy: "The Ground Shook in West, Texas"

On April 17, the ground shook in West, Texas. It collapsed buildings and broke hearts.” That’s what a solemn Chief Ron Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), told more than 10,000 people at a...


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A true Texan, friends said Calvin was the one who would walk up to a newcomer and shake his hand. He had been an emergency responder in the area for many years. He happily shared with his colleagues that he was excited about the birth of another child in November. His father, Phil Calvin, is the chief of the Navarro Mills Volunteer Fire Company.

JERRY CHAPMAN

A young man with computer training, Chapman had found his niche when he became a firefighter with the Abbott Volunteer Fire Company. He was within a week of becoming an EMT and had a dream of becoming a helicopter medic.

“I had to know if he did it right. And, I found out he was given orders, and he was doing it correctly…” his father, Dane Chapman, said. “I’m proud…”

“Jerry was the number-two man on the hose, right behind Cyrus Reed,” Chapman said, struggling to keep his emotions. “Not only did I lose my son, but Cyrus worked with me. He was one of the best…”

Rhonda Chapman added that not knowing for days about their son’s fate compounded their grief, and the experience will never be forgotten.

Chapman said he called authorities in various agencies all day Thursday, but got no answers.

“I told them we needed to know where our son was…”

When they arrived at a local church in West for what they believed was a “town” meeting, they were told grief counselors would be available.

Things got worse when Chapman said he was told by a person he believes was an ATF agent, that there was a criminal investigation ongoing at the site of the blast. “That’s the only thing he’d tell me…nothing about Jerry.”

Out of frustration, grief and anger, Chapman said he grabbed Jim Byers, a firefighter with the Texas LODD Task Force. “I looked him in the eye, and I told him I wanted my son.”

Byers was the one who came through for the grieving parents.

“We went through the most heart- wrenching time, and no one would listen or give us answers,” Mrs. Chapman said. “Thank God for Jimmy.”

They said their son had a big heart, and went out of his way to help people.

CODY DRAGOO

Originally from Montana, Firefighter Dragoo liked to hunt, watch NASCAR and cook. “Every night we cooked together,” his wife, Patty, said as she sat at the kitchen table. The night of the blast was a typical one. He had a water meeting in a nearby community, and was at a friend’s house…

“He called me and told me about the fire and it wasn’t going to be good. He said I may be able to see it from the yard out back. He was right. It was a huge fire…”

She heard an explosion, and her heart just went. And she did what Cody had told her to do if there was a big fire – stay home. She waited for him to call. Eventually, she tried him, but it went straight to voice mail. By dawn, she was getting really worried. Could he be at a hospital and unable to call? Her sisters and others had learned while watching morning news shows about firefighters killed. The sisters – Susan Miller and Cindy Kubacak – went the farm to comfort her.

“As time went on, I knew,” she said. “I just had this gut feeling.”

On Friday night, the local justice of the peace arrived to make it official.

She doubts she will be cooking or eating spaghetti anytime soon. “We were making spaghetti that night. Every night, we’d cook and talk and talk and talk…”

KENNETH HARRIS

Nicknamed “Lucky,” Harris was a captain with Dallas Fire/Rescue who lived in West. He did what came naturally when he heard about the fire in his hometown – he responded. Harris loved spending time with his wife and three sons, and enjoyed fishing on his boat, “Boots Up.”

JOSEPH PUSTEJOVSKY

Described by friends as always smiling, Firefighter Pustejovsky was the city secretary. Joey’s wife said he was a caring father and husband. He served as the secretary/treasurer of the West Fire Department.

CYRUS REED

An Abbott firefighter, he loved the “deuce and a half.” He took pride in the equipment, and enjoyed teaching children about firefighting safety. He ran to the fire that night with his EMT class, but followed his heart and took the hoseline. He was on the nozzle when the blast occurred.

KEVIN SANDERS

A veterinary technician from Illinois, Sanders joined the Bruceville-Eddy Fire Department and was taking the EMT class as well. A Superman fanatic, he and his wife, Sarah, named their son Reeve. Sanders, his brother said, had found his niche in the volunteer fire service and enjoyed racing to help others.