Editor's Note: Firehouse Associate Editor Susan Nicol was sent to Texas following the tragic blast on Wednesday night. Stay with Firehouse.com for exclusive stories and more. Find full coverage of the West, Texas, Tragedy here.
WEST, TEXAS – It was a busy Saturday morning at the local fire station here.
Engines and equipment were being washed, generators were being checked out and gear was inspected.
But, this wasn’t just the average Saturday morning at the West Vol. Fire Department.
A huge bouquet of white lilies and red roses sits on a table surrounded by five lighted candles – one for each of the West volunteer firefighters who answered their last alarm Wednesday evening at a nearby fertilizer plant.
The majority of those inspecting equipment, rinsing out the bays and cooking food aren’t from West. They live in nearby communities, and are here to help their neighbors.
Firefighters with Red Oak, Cedar Hill and Waxahachie are handling calls in the West area for the immediate future, explained Chief J.D. Gardner, who is heading the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System operations.
“We’ve asked for a seven day commitment here. The equipment will be here, and they can change personnel if they need to,” he said adding that the majority are staying.
The mutual aid crews are staffing tankers, a truck, rescue engine and brush truck.
West Fire Department lost an engine, a tanker and a booster (brush) truck in the explosion that registered 2.1 on the Richter scale.
Although a number of apparatus and equipment manufacturers have contacted authorities, Gardner said a needs assessment has not been completed.
There was a lot going on by many folks at the station both in the apparatus bays and in the meeting room, yet it was still relatively quiet.
Photographs on the walls tell the history of the department. There are pictures of the single-story fire station in the middle of this small town has seen more than its share of visitors – including some with four legs – and this is just the beginning.
In the coming weeks, months and years, families who lost loved ones will be piecing their lives back together.
And, they won't be alone in their journey.
The State Firemen's and Fire Marshals' Association of Texas has assigned a person to each family.
"The average contact usually lasts five years, but many times longer," said Joe Ondrasek, secretary.
Members of fire departments throughout Texas make up the task force, and are committed to helping the families of responders who lose a member.
Ondrasek has been busy these past few days assisting George Nors Jr., who has been appointed interim chief. His father, Chief George Nors remains hospitalized along with a few others.
The majority of the department's line officers were either injured or were killed, Ondrasek said.
"I'm here doing whatever I need to do," he said. "It's been going OK. He's doing a good job."
SALUTING THEIR FALLEN
When word came that an procession of emergency vehicles escorting the bodies of the fallen responders was getting near town, firefighters went to nearby overpasses and waited.
A number of drivers blew their horns as they passed underneath.
When the procession -- headed from Dallas to Waco -- came into sight, the group snapped to attention and saluted. After it passed, they dismissed in silence, climbed into the fire trucks and headed back to the West fire station.