Texas Community Mourns for Fallen Firefighters - News - @ JEMS.com


Video, Photos: Texas Community Mourns for Fallen Firefighters and EMS Personnel

Nine firefighters among the 14 bodies recovered

 

 
 
 

NOMAAN MERCHANT and PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press | | Saturday, April 20, 2013

GALLERIES

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Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

Ten of the dead were firefighters and EMS personnel.
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VIDEOS

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911 Calls from West, Texas Plant Explosion

“Listen to me, my ambulance station just completely exploded,”
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Abbott, Texas Mourns Firefighters Killed in Explosion

Smaller, neighboring community mourns for their fallen firefighters.
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WEST, Texas (AP) — Buck Uptmor didn't have to go to West Fertilizer Co. when the fire started. He wasn't a firefighter like his brother and cousin, who raced toward the plant. But a ranch of horses next to the flames needed to be moved to safety.

"He went to help a friend," said Joyce Marek, Uptmor's aunt. "And then it blew."

Texas Plant Explosion Complete Coverage

Two days after the fertilizer facility exploded in a blinding fireball, authorities announced Friday that they had recovered 14 bodies, confirming for the first time an exact number of people killed. Grieving relatives filed into a church offering comfort for families, as volunteers nearby handed out food to those still unable to return to homes damaged by the massive blast.

Ten of the dead were first-responders — including five from the West Volunteer Fire Department and four emergency medics, West Mayor Tommy Muska said.

NFFF Announces West Texas Fire and EMS Hero Fund

The dead included Uptmor and Joey Pustejovsky, the city secretary who doubled as a member of the West Volunteer Fire Department. A captain of the Dallas Fire Department who was off-duty at the time but responded to the fire to help also died.

The explosion was strong enough to register as a small earthquake and could be heard for many miles across the Texas prairie. It demolished nearly everything for several blocks around the plant. More than 200 people were hurt, and Muska said five first-responders were among those who remained hospitalized Friday.

The first-responders "knew it was dangerous. They knew that thing could go up at any time," said Ronnie Sykora, who was Pustejovsky's deacon at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church. "But they also knew that if they could extinguish that fire before it went up, that they could save tens of lives, hundreds of lives. That's why they were in there."

Following a tour of the rubble Friday, Gov. Rick Perry told reporters the search-and-rescue phase for anyone still trapped was largely finished. He said the state would offer help to the 29-member local fire department that had been "basically wiped out."

"To the first-responders: I cannot say thank you enough," Perry said.

Hours later, President Barack Obama issued an emergency declaration and pledged federal disaster relief aid to help West recover. After addressing Friday night's arrest of the second Boston Marathon bombing suspect, the president extended his prayers and sympathies to everyone affected by the plant explosion and said he'd spoken to Perry and Muska and vowed that the community would get the resources it needs to rebuild.

"Our thoughts, our prayers are with the people of West, Texas, where so many good people lost their lives, some lost their homes, many were injured, many are still missing," Obama said.

Earlier Friday, Edward Smith, a volunteer chaplain for the Dallas Police Department, counseled firefighters at West's fire station.

"Right now, the general public might be saying, 'Well, why aren't they talking about this?'" Smith said of the firefighters. "They don't necessarily even want to talk about it. They're holding out hope."

In a town of just 2,800 people, everyone here knew someone affected by the explosion.

Officials offered reassurances Friday about the 60 or so people listed as unaccounted for after the blast. McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said many people on the list probably lost their homes and have simply been difficult to locate since the Wednesday evening accident.

"I think we're going to eliminate 99 percent" of those listed, he said.

The fertilizer facility stores and distributes anhydrous ammonia, a fertilizer that can be injected into soil. It also mixes other fertilizers.

Plant owner Donald Adair released a statement saying he never would forget the "selfless sacrifice of first-responders who died trying to protect all of us."

One of the plant employees also was killed responding to the fire, Adair said.

Federal investigators and the state fire marshal's office began inspecting the blast site Friday to collect evidence that may point to a cause.

Franceska Perot, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Friday evening that investigators still were combing through debris and would continue Saturday.

Residents cannot return to their homes until investigators are finished, Perot said. She did not have a timetable on when that might be.

"We're moving as fast as we can," Perot said. "We don't want them working at night because things can be missed."

Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, who toured the town Friday, said they would wait for more information about the explosion before considering whether there should be more regulation of anhydrous ammonia.

The accident forever changed the community's landscape. An apartment complex was badly shattered, a school set ablaze and a nursing home left in ruins. At West Intermediate School, which was close to the blast site, all the building's windows were blown out, as well as the cafeteria.

Marek was teaching a high school youth group when the blast shook the room. The lights went out, and a student's phone lit up with a text message that there was an explosion at the fertilizer plant. He told Marek his brother's truck had been picked up and hurled into his family's house.

Marek spent the next couple of hours wondering if she knew anyone who might be at the plant. Then Uptmor's wife called.

"She said, 'Have you heard from Buck? She told me they had called him up there, and she couldn't get a hold of him," Marek said.

They spent the next few hours frantically searching for the father of three, who coached baseball, played drums in a band and whose phone always was ringing with people seeking help. Sometimes it was a truck stuck in a ditch or a house that flooded or a neighbor who needed a hand moving furniture.

Every time, Marek said, Uptmor would go.

"Why did they have to call him? He was safe at home with his family," Marek said. "But you know, if he hadn't gone, he wouldn't have been Buck."

___

Associated Press writers Will Weissert and Christopher Sherman in West, Juan Carlos Llorca in El Paso, and video journalists John L. Mone and Raquel Maria Dillon in West contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.



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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


911 Calls from West, Texas Plant Explosion



Abbott, Texas Mourns Firefighters Killed in Explosion



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Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

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Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

This Thursday, April 18, 2013 aerial photo shows the remains of a nursing home, left, apartment complex, center, and fertilizer plant, right, destroyed by an explosion in West, Texas. There were no sprinklers. No firewalls. No water deluge systems. Safety inspections were rare at the fertilizer company in West, Texas, that exploded and killed at least 14 people this week. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, file)


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Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

West resident Jeanette Sulak embraces West Police Chief James Lawhorn at West Drug, the downtown drug store owned by her and her husband Mike, Friday, April 19, 2013 in West, Texas. (AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Stuart Villanueva)


Gallery 1

Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

People attend a service at St. Mary's Church of the Assumption, Friday, April 19, 2013, two days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. Wednesday night killed 14 people including numerous members of the West Volunteer Fire Department and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


Gallery 1

Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

Members of the West Volunteer Fire Department listen to a service at St. Mary's Church of the Assumption, Friday, April 19, 2013, two days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. Wednesday night killed 14 people including numerous members of the West Volunteer Fire Department and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


Gallery 1

Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

Members of the West Volunteer Fire Department leave the church after attending a service at St. Mary's Church of the Assumption, Friday, April 19, 2013, two days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. Wednesday night killed 14 people including numerous members of the West Volunteer Fire Department and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


Gallery 1

Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

Members of the West Volunteer Fire Department gather after attending a service at St. Mary's Church of the Assumption, Friday, April 19, 2013, two days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. Wednesday night killed 14 people including numerous members of the West Volunteer Fire Department and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


Gallery 1

Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

Members of the West Volunteer Fire Department leave in a firetruck after attending a service at St. Mary's Church of the Assumption, Friday, April 19, 2013, two days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. Wednesday night killed 14 people including numerous members of the West Volunteer Fire Department and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


Gallery 1

Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

Mandy Jares and her son Zander, age, 10, look through donated clothing Friday, April 19, 2013, as they replace belongings lost when thier home was destroyed in an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. Jares lives across a vacant lot from the West Fertilizer plant plant and was outside watching the fire when it exploded Wednesday night killed as many as 15 people and injuring more than 160. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


Gallery 1

Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

People sit in silence after attending a service at St. Mary's Church of the Assumption, Friday, April 19, 2013, two days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. Wednesday night killed 14 people and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


Gallery 1

Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

People comfort each other after attending a service at St. Mary's Church of the Assumption Friday, April 19, 2013, two days after an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. Wednesday night killed 14 people and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)


Gallery 1

APWestRecover11.jpg

This 2012 photo provided by the Uptmor family shows Buck Uptmor and his wife Arcey. Buck Uptmor was killed in the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. The massive explosion Wednesday night killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/Uptmor Family)


Gallery 1

Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Jason Reyes, left, and Trooper Noey Fernandez inform reporters that the death toll and the number of destroyed homes during a news conference on Friday April 19, 2013 in West, Texas. The bodies of 12 people have been recovered after an enormous Texas fertilizer plant explosion that demolished surrounding neighborhoods for blocks and left about 200 other people injured, authorities said Friday. (AP Photo/Star-Telegram,Ron T. Ennis)


Gallery 1

Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

Mangled debris of a fertilizer plant are seen Thursday, April 18, 2013, a day after an explosion leveled the plant in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. Wednesday night killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/The Times, Henrietta Wildsmith)


Gallery 1

Memorial Service for Victims of Texas Plant Explosion

Mangled debris of a fertilizer plant are seen Thursday, April 18, 2013, a day after an explosion leveled the plant in West, Texas. The massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. Wednesday night killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160. (AP Photo/The Times, Henrietta Wildsmith)



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