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 theWest, Texas, Tragedy here.
WEST, TEXAS – Tim Lee, like all West firefighters, says he never wants to run another call like the one Wednesday night.
He lost some of his best friends in the explosion at the local fertilizer plant.
“I was outside mowing when my wife told me the pager had gone off for a fire at the plant,” he explained Sunday morning standing on the apron of his fire department.
By the time Lee made it to the station, the trucks were gone. So, he grabbed his turnout gear and headed to the plant in his personal vehicle.
“I got there about 15 minutes after the explosion,” he said as his voice trailed off.
The firefighter for about five years added quickly: “I’m not ready to talk about a lot of stuff…”
Lee said he got back to the firehouse about 3:30 a.m.
“I answered the phone here the next day, and it was someone from the White House. He said he was with the president’s staff, but I don’t remember what that was. He told me he was sorry for what happened. He wanted to talk to the chief, but I told him he was not available that he was indisposed…”
Lee said he honored the department’s wishes, and didn’t tell the caller that their chief – George Nors Sr. – was in the hospital.
A former correctional officer, Lee said the department works hard for its funds.
One of the largest functions -- the annual BBQ competition – was held just last month.
“People start setting up on Friday evening because that’s when the kids get their pork chops.
“Each child wanting to compete is given a pork chop, and they are responsible for seasoning it and cooking it,” he explained. “Everybody loves it.”
On Saturday, the real competition starts, and the aroma of the fires sifts through the nearby area.
Some don’t enter the competition, they just fire up their grills for the fun.
“We don’t sell it,” Lee says, “You walk around and say ‘hey that smells good,’ and they often say ‘well here, have you some…”
Another big event for the volunteers is the tractor pull during the annual West Best, the Czech festival honoring the founding families.
Lee admitted the future will be a tough one, but says the widespread support is helping.