Monday, April 22, 2013

West, Texas Explosion - Why The Volunteers Chose to Die

(McClennan County Sheriff talks about the explosion)
Why the West, Texas volunteer firefighters chose death clearly knowing a major explosion was about to happen...

Small town, rural volunteer firefighters are very different compared to paid metropolitan firefighters. I know. Because I was one. My first fire was a huge, roaring oil well fire. My first medical emergency was a heart attack victim who was so far away from our small town out in the sticks, he was stone cold dead by the time we got there. I was 16 when I started, the youngest age allowed by our small town department to be eligible for serving. Stuff we saw and did on a daily basis was a real eye opener. We covered 900 square miles, and at least 9 other small communities, industries, remote areas of heavily traveled interstate, oil fields, rivers and lakes where drownings were an annual thing, as well as providing backup for departments on the outer fringe of our areas of responsibility.

You did not have fire hydrants. You rolled big tankers that 1 hose putting 90 to 120 gallons a minute out onto a huge fire would drain a 3000 gallon tanker in 20 minutes. You didn't have enough water to just stand back and spray water on it until it finnaly died out. We had to learn how to knock a fire down fast with as little water as possible. A very hot process. But if you learned how to do it, you could literally walk through a fire, exiting the other side with only steam rising up around you, most of the fire now just smoldering embers.

You did not have streets in many places. The only way to get to a burning field or forest or to an injured person tangled up in farm equipment was to have an off road rig. Some departments utilized military 6 bys, but we knew during the windy season those were too slow and after rains they easily stuck in the mud up to their axles. High winds can send flames skipping across the country side like stones skipping across a pond. You had to have a 4 wheel drive rig that could outrun those flames while at the same time knocking them down. We built our own off road trucks that were light and fast but still carried 500 gallons of water.

But most importantly being so far out in the middle of no where you had to know how to keep people alive who were injured and close to death until you could get them to a far and distant medical facility, sometimes driving up to 100 miles an hour on an open highway that had little traffic. If you didn't your pateint could be DOA (dead on arrival, dieing right in front of you. Being a small town where you knew everyone, DOAs were hard to stomach.

If you could do all of the above, you were an accomplished fire fighter like no other. And you didn't get a dime for your time. You were volunteer.

But the ultimate sacrifice by volunteers usually does not occur way out in the middle of no where. Life was most dangerous in town.

The majority of volunteers live close a small community firestation. If the young volunteers focus on training and effectively communicating to the community what the material needs who in turn provide material support to the fire protection effort, loyalty and a sense of secure public safety is established. Well trained and well equiped volunteers can run circles around paid departments because they know the occupants of a business, home, or auto requiring their help and they will do whatever it takes to protect the people of thier community.

Houses, buildings, and vehicles can be replaced. If a life is lost, that life cannot be rebuilt. Even volunteer firefighters will back off to protect thier own lives if they know no other lives are in danger. But if the lives of people who cannot protect themselves from a catastrophic lethal threat are at risk, they will put thier own lives in danger to protect the lives of others in thier community.

Prior to the massive explosion that took out the entire on site volunteer units people in a nearby home for the elderly, houses and apartments were being evacuated. Given enough time and knowing that everyone in the outer areas were evacuated, the volunteer unit would have backed out also. But there was no time left, and even though these people died, the people they were trying to protect did not.

Mission accomplished. God Bless West.