State Agencies Respond to Fertilizer Plant Fire, Explosion in West

May 2, 2013 by  


imagesTexas state agencies are “on the ground to assist and remain as long as needed and requested,” said Gov. Rick Perry regarding the state’s response to the devastating fire and explosion in the city of West in McLennan County.

At a press conference, DPS Sgt. Jason Reyes confirmed the deaths of 12 individuals, all in the area of the West Fertilizer plant explosion, but did not know how many of those were the first responders. The DPS officer said there had been 200 injuries reported, 50 homes destroyed and 150 buildings cleared by searchers with another 25 yet to be cleared. Recovery efforts are continuing, he said. Perry declared a state of emergency and has asked for a federal emergency declaration, which President Barack Obama has promised to expedite.

The first confirmed fatality was Dallas Fire-Rescue Capt. Kenny Harris, a resident of West who was off duty when the incident occurred. Although not a volunteer firefighter in West, Harris responded when the fire and explosion occurred. “Captain Harris’ response is typical of all our first responders; night and day, no matter where they are, no matter if they are on or off duty they respond with the greatest acts of bravery,” said Dallas City Manager Mary K. Suhm. “The City of Dallas and the citizens of Dallas have lost a real role model.”

Although state agencies were quick to respond with law enforcement officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety and then a steady stream of assistance from a variety of other state agencies, state officials heaped praise on local first responders. Those mostly volunteer responders were on the scene almost immediately, rescuing other members of their community, struggling to preserve both lives and property. Local firefighters – most who work on a volunteer basis – medical personnel, town officials and countless others “ came together under the most difficult of circumstances,” said Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Division of Emergency Management. Perry described the scene as “truly a nightmare scenario for that community,” adding that the tragedy had touched practically everyone in the town.

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Crowds line the street in front of the Ferrell Center to watch a procession of fire trucks and emergency vehicles before a memorial service for the victims of the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion last week, at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, April 25, 2013. Picture taken April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Richard Rodriguez

Preliminary reports indicated that multiple area hospitals reported approximately 200 victims reporting to their emergency rooms, with more than 50 admissions reported.

Perry said Task Force One and Two (TX-TF1 and TX-TF2) and the Texas National Guard were dispatched to the scene to assist with active search and rescue operations. Task Force Once and Two are National Urban Search and Rescue teams. On Thursday, TX-TF1 completed wide area, primary and secondary searches of the neighborhood surrounding the blast site, concentrating on an apartment complex that was decimated by the explosion. The task force was back for its next operation at 6 a.m. today. TX-TF1 also activated the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team, which was dispatched to the scene to rescue dogs and to treat livestock and pets affected by the explosion.

Additionally, on the morning after the explosion, officials with the Texas Department of Transportation were on hand to assist with traffic flow and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had employees on site monitoring air quality. The Texas Department of State Health Services provided ambulances, buses and mobile hospitals and the Texas Education Agency was in contact with West school officials to coordinate immediate education needs. An intermediate school in West was in close proximity to the blast, said the governor.

A Texas A&M Forest Service Incident Management Team, with its mobile command post and satellite trailer, was deployed to aid in response and recovery efforts after being requested by the Texas Division of Emergency Management to help emergency management officials track the local, state and federal resources responding to the scene. They are being assisted by the Forest Services’ three regional All-Hazard Incident Management Teams to aid in the response and recovery efforts.

Also assisting with site security were Texas Parks and Wildlife Department supervisors and Game Wardens and personnel with the Texas Animal Health Commission and the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Communications Coordination Group and officials with the Health and Human Service Commission’s 2-1-1 service.

When incidents of the magnitude of the West tragedy occur, local government resources are quickly overwhelmed, said Kidd. But the assistance the state is offering is not over, he noted. No need or request from West local government officials is unmet, Kidd said Thursday. He added that the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Division of Emergency Management will make sure their requested needs are delivered.

“Texas is fortunate to have highly trained first responders who are second to none. These dedicated individuals from state agencies, local governments and volunteer organizations never hesitate to risk their own lives with the number one priority of protecting and helping others at all costs,” said Kidd. “In moments like this tragic disaster, we are proud to recognize the courageous work of these men and women.”

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