Jimmy Matus, 52, was named an honorary West firefighter followng the explosion. The owner of fire truck builder Westex jumped into action with firefighters on that tragic April day.
Jan. 19--Kress Fire Rescue has a very special new addition to their fleet, a 1999 Spartan Quality fire truck previous-owned by Dallas Fire-Rescue. The fact Kress has such a new, powerful truck would be significant enough, but it is the story behind the truck that makes it so special.
The truck bears a dedication to the citizens of West, Texas -- the Central Texas town that suffered an explosion last April, killing 15.
West is home to a fire truck equipment manufacturing company called Westex. That's where the story begins in 2008.
Kress Fire Rescue is a small volunteer fire department. The town of 700 people doesn't have many fires or wrecks, but they do have grass fires. In 2008 the fire department, along with the Texas Forest Service, was able to acquire a "brush truck" for the department. The equipment on the back of the truck was built by Westex. The truck bears the company logo just above the cab.
That relationship with Westex and its manager, Jimmy Matus, meant fire chief Kevin Goss would stop in whenever he was on his way back to Kress from training at Texas A&M University in College Station.
On April 17 Matus, a well known member of the West community, decided to help out firefighters battling a fire at West Fertilizer Company. He was among the 12 that were directly killed in the explosion.
Matus was a West ISD school board member and was known to play Santa Claus around town. He also had recently purchased a 1999 fire truck from Dallas Fire-Rescue for himself. "He would be seen driving it around town, running errands in it," Goss said.
Goss' department has limited funds, they had recently added the idea of buying a new truck to replace their open-air 1983 truck on the city's 20-year plan when Goss made his annual stop to Westex in July. "I went around the corner and the truck was sitting there in the weeds," Goss said in the office area of the Kress fire house. Seven months later he still is a little surprised.
Matus' brother, who had moved from Waco to take over the family business after the accident, said the company did not want the liability of the truck, and the family did not have time to do anything with it. "We talked about a possible price, and I brought it back to the Kress City Council," Goss said.
By October the department had a new truck, but it still needed some work. An engine had to be rebuilt and supplies to adapt the truck to Kress' previous equipment had to be added. The truck was finally put into service on Dec. 30 at 10 p.m. "Three hours later it was battling it's first fire," Goss said of the New Year's Eve fire that destroyed the home of Kress resident Ralph Perez. The truck quickly proved its worth as the eastern part of the house wasn't destroyed. It also allowed the fire department to replace two vehicles. "It's taken the place of two trucks, we had an old ambulance we used as a rescue truck, It also replaced our 1983 pumper."
The truck was taken to Master Graphics in Plainview to have the Kress Fire Rescue logo and slogan added to it. Goss decided to also add a tribute to the citizens of West with the date of the explosion. It's specifically a tribute to Matus and the others that were fighting the fire. "It doesn't matter where you are at, or if you are paid or volunteer, we're all brothers and sisters," Goss said. "It seemed right, it's something good to come out of something bad."
On January 27, the department will gather with professional photographer Jeanne Johnson of Rocking J Photography to take a picture of the firefighters around the truck. They will send a framed copy of the picture and a signed Kress Fire Rescue T-shirt to Westex and the West Fire Department to add to their collection of T-shirts sent as thanks and encouragement from around the world.
The department will also hold a hamburger fund raiser on the 27th -- giving residents a chance to come see the new truck and equipment.
"It's probably the nicest truck we'll ever have," Goss said.
Citizens will also be able to donate money to help with the costs of repairing the engine.
To learn more about Kress Fire Rescue, or to find out about volunteering, you can log on to kressfirerescue.com. A slideshow of the new truck can be found in the photo galleries section of myplainview.com.
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