WEST (CBS 11 NEWS) – Dr. George Smith credits God that he was able to get out from under the debris at the West nursing home minutes after the West Company fertilizer plant exploded.
Dr. Smith says, “That’s the way I look at it. He said I had more work to do.”
Now, nearly one month later, state and federal investigators are set to announce Thursday what sparked the fire and subsequent explosion at the plant.
Dr. Smith has been the city’s medical director since he founded the EMS here 38 years ago.
“It’s going to be a relief to know what happened. There are people who blamed our firefighters who gave their life.”
Initially, some people thought the firefighters caused the blast by putting water on ammonium nitrate that was stored in the facility and blew up — but the state said nothing could be further from the truth.
Dr. Smith recalls the fiery blast. “It happened just in a millisecond. It’s hard to describe the force in that explosion.”
At the time, Dr. Smith was in the nursing home trying to move patients away from the side of the building that faces the plant. “I was worried about the toxic smoke.”
He says he never realized there would be an explosion. “I’m very proud to say 127 residents left the nursing home alive.”
None died there.
But don’t call him a hero. “The real heroes in this are the firefighters. When the explosion happened, and they saw their their friends killed, they stayed there and fought the fire so there weren”t more explosions.”
Initially, Dr. Smith said they feared as many as 60-70 people may have died because they would be trapped in their homes.
But he says at the time of the explosion, many people were watching the fire from the street and were slightly injured when they were knocked down, and not hit with falling debris.
Dr. Smith is also an osteopathic family practitioner in the city.
His office sustained heavy damage, and on this day, a bulldozer could be seen tearing off the brick facade.
He says he hasn’t found out yet from his insurance company whether he can rebuild what’s left or tear the building down and start over.
For now, Dr. Smith and his staff have set-up a temporary office in a former bridal shop.
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